The Italians

Throughout the early years of the music's development, whether at independent labels or among performers themselves, Rock and Roll culture was a meeting place of various racial and ethnic groups. Different from the world of American business and the emerging corporate environment, the world of Rock and Roll held possibilities for immigrants and non-whites who wanted to improve upon their situations. If the popular version of the American Dream held that anyone could make his way to the Presidency, just as Abe Lincoln did in the near mythological tale of his journey from a log cabin to the White House, the lives of many Americans proved that this Dream did not hold. But in the music business, things — if not perfect — were different. In a time when an important businessman like Henry Ford could openly and aggressively promote his anti-Semitic views, Jewish Americans often faced hostility and persecution as they navigated the working world, just as African Americans faced the sometimes brutal facts of segregation. Similarly, Italian Americans also came up against the machinery of prejudice when arriving on American soil. But in music, many among these populations found a different logic governing the institutions through which music got made and got circulated.

If the Rock and Roll story would be entirely different if one removed the profound influence of African Americans, so, too, would things change if the contributions of Italian Americans were somehow pulled from the music and its history. But Italians were often hidden in plain view, at least to the degree that they could be. In this chapter, many of the story's characters go under names other than those they were given. Robert Ridorelli becomes Bobby Rydell. Walen Cassatto becomes Bobby Darin. Frederick Picariello becomes Freddy Cannon. And so forth. It's a history that is too seldom told. But the music of the Italians, from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett forward, brought much to Rock and Roll. In the lessons that will be introduced to this chapter in phase two of this project, the Italians will take center stage.