THE GROUNDBREAKERS – ITALIAN-AMERICAN VOCALISTS BEFORE ROCK AND ROLL
How did the careers of Italian American vocalists in the first half of the 20th century reflect the experiences of Italian American immigrants and attitudes toward them in the wider American culture?
More than 3 million Italians immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century, establishing the largest immigrant community of the period. Like many other immigrant groups, these new Americans – generally poor, sometimes illiterate – faced numerous challenges in assimilating into the larger society, from limited job opportunities to outright prejudice.
Beginning in the 1930s, and to a greater degree in the 1940s and 1950s, a group of Italian-American male vocalists achieved great success as recording artists and performers. In this lesson, students will examine the careers of these artists and what they reveal about society’s attitudes toward the Italian-American community.
“In Frank Sinatra’s voice,” argues Mark Rotella in his 2010 book, Amore: The Story of Italian American Song, “you can almost hear the suppression of decades of immigrant frustration and anger. This was the time when Italian Americans entered the mainstream of empowerment, and when they broke into popular culture.”
Students will investigate what these singers, from Sinatra to Tony Bennett and Dean Martin, brought to popular song, and why their particular style of singing made such an impression on the American public.
Video pages: Frank Sinatra - 5 Minutes More (1946) | Tony Bennett - Because of You (1951) | Enrico Caruso - O Sole Mio (1916) | Perry Como - Prisoner of Love (1946) | Dean Martin - That's Amore (1953) | Russ Columbo - You Call it Madness (1932)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
1. Display this painting on the board and discuss:
2. Distribute Handout 1: Immigration from Italy, and discuss:
3. Display the photograph of the “Little Italy” neighborhood in New York City around 1900, and discuss:
4. Display the cartoon from 1888, and discuss:
How did the success of Italian-American vocalists in the first half of the 20th century reflect the changing experiences of Italian-American immigrants, and changing attitudes toward them in the larger American culture?
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.