Like the Irish, Italian-American families are still incredibly proud of their heritage. Just listen to that guy on Cake Boss (he’s so obnoxious, but the love is only in good spirit). Italians who arrived in America were a part of the new immigrants – those who arrived after the Germans, Irish and Nordic people in the 19th century. With them, the Italians brought an irresistible culture that has influenced American life in many ways from food to dress to music.
Over the course of the 50s and 60s America had a fascination with European cultures, particularly the Italians. Rosemary Clooney’s (though Italian and German) “Mambo Italiano” became a top 10 hit for her in 1954. The song was even written in an Italian restaurant in New York. Many crooners have an Italian heritage like Tony Bennett, Sinatra and Dean Martin. The latter released several successful songs in an Italian-spirit like a cover of Domenico Modugno’s “Volare” and the pizza-worshiping “That’s Amore”.
One of the best renditions of the Burke and Johnston song “Pennies From Heaven” is by Louis Prima. Although born in New Orleans, Martin was heavily influenced by his Italian family. The significance of that is quite noticeable in his spin. He throws in humorous lines related to various pastas and pizzaioli. The song was originally about finding happiness in the darkness of the Depression. I’d like to think that Martin’s winks to Italian culture was his way of talking about what things he found simple joy in.
Many of these songs do show their age, but they do offer a look at a group of people that really are their own.