The twentieth century was the golden age of Neapolitan song. This is a festival of musicians and singers who have marked a turning point in the Neapolitan style of music, from traditional melodic style to the Neapolitan Sound.
The music and lyrics have always been an important part of Neapolitan culture.
In the twentieth century a great vivacity experienced in the music scene in Naples. At the beginning of the century there was success of the Café Chantant imported from France.
The spectacle of Café Chantant had great popularity in Naples. Already in the late nineteenth century the Salone Margherita was opened inside the Galleria Umberto I. The Salone Margherita was located on the lower level of the gallery, at the central cruise, it had a circular shape and it was in Art Nouveau style. The Salone Margherita was the seat of election of the show of Parisian origin. Following numerous other local born or adapted themselves to present performances of Café Chantant. The Gambrinus, the Eldorado, the Partenope regularly presented shows French fashion. Neapolitan artists of Café Chantant were presented with the French stage names. The most famous of these singers was Gilda Mignonette.
Gilda Mignonette, her real name Griselda Andreatini, was born in the neighborhood of Duchesca in 1886, she was the daughter of a professor and her mother was an impoverished noble. She began his artistic career in Cafè Chantant the Umberto Theatre in Naples, as a singer and dancer.
After a few years that she performed in concert coffee, she was noticed by maestro Ciaramella who sensed her singing ability.
After a brief period in which she recited in the works of Raffaele Viviani she was engaged for a tour in the United States. Gilda was in America for 29 years. Wherever she showed with his songs that reminded the vicissitudes of Italian immigrants to America, she was receiving a huge success. He married in America with Frank Acierno, son of his first manager in the United States.
The authorities prevented her from presenting her performances in major theaters with the outbreak of World War II, because she was an Italian citizenship. Gilda does not lose heart, she rented a small theater in the suburbs of New York and she carrying his audience up to that little theater with the bus.
During the war she visited and organized performances in concentration camps, where Italian-Americans had been detained, they were regarded by US authorities as enemies at home because of the alliance between Italy and Germany.
She was deeply affected by the unfair treatment suffered by her compatriots. Gilda Mignonette decided to return to Italy.
May 17, 1953 she stood on the stage wrapped in the Italian flag and she sang her repertoire, including his biggest hit: “A cartulina and Napule” winning a resounding and moving last applause in the her farewell show.
In early June she embarked on the transatlantic Homeland, headed for Naples. She was in a wheel chair due to advanced liver cirrhosis. On June 8, 1953 Gilda Mignonette died when the ship was in front of Algiers, 24 hours of arrival in Naples.
The second wife of her husband, the American Anny Acierno, organized every year in the United States an exhibition of memories of Gilda Mignonette in a small museum dedicated to her.
Neapolitan drama (Sceneggiata)
Between the two world wars, after the Café Chantant, it asserted a new kind of show which combined the song with prose, “Neapolitan Drama”, known in Italy as “Sceneggiata”. It was born and had its heyday in Naples. It seems that this type of representation was conceived to save on taxes on variety shows in the first post-war. The musical essence was preserved of the show with the Neapolitan Drama which was framed by a representation in prose. Typically it built a story along the lines of a hit song, which was the singing main theme of these little plays.
There were many companies who performed in this type of show in Naples. The show was often shown in cinemas, on a small stage. It was offered to viewers as a preview of the film.
The most famous companies of this theatrical genre were the Cafiero-Fumo Team in which Nino Taranto also performed. Another famous company was the Maggio team, which featured performances both in Italy and in America. The company founded by “Mimì” Maggio had players of the caliber of Beniamino and Dante Maggio and successful actresses like Pupella and Rosalia Maggio, then all become actors in theater and cinema.
After World War II Mario Merola became famous with his company devoted to the representation of “Neapolitan Drama”.
Mario Merola was born in Naples in 1934. His father was a humble worker who was practicing the profession of shoemaker in the district of Sant’Anna alle paludi (Corso Arnaldo Lucci) where he lived. Mario Merola played in the youth with junior team of Napoli Football Club and other teams. He was also played in “Serie C” teams. While still young he began working in the port as a docker.
He tried his singing career together with a colleague, possessing a fine voice. The “guest star”, the singer Mario Trevi, was late to show up at a concert in honor of Our Lady, in front of the church of Sant’Anna alle Paludi,. The Mario’s friends encouraged him to go on stage to perform, taking advantage of the empty stage. It was a huge success. He made his first records and participated in his first Neapolitan Drama, “Malufiglio”, to the theater Sirena.
In 1959 he won a competition for new voices to the theater “2000” (Piazza Carlo III), in that same contest finished second singer Gloriana, then fifteen. Achieved success, he participated in numerous shows and concerts.
He also participated in numerous festivals of Piedigrotta and Naples Festival. In 1994 he made his only appearance at the Sanremo Festival with “Una vecchia canzone italiana”. He was the star of several B-movie filmed mostly in Naples, where the traditional and “romantic” historical “Guapperia” (Neapolitan mob) was represented.
He was called the “King of the Neapolitan Drama” for the numerous successes in this kind of show. Most famous was his interpretation of “Zappatore” on the theme of song with the same name of 1930 by Libero Bovio.
In 1977 Mario Merola was invited to a party at the White House by President Gerald Ford with Luciano Pavarotti. The two were to represent the classical Neapolitan melody. They had no way to agree on the songs to be presented. Mario Merola, who sang first, put unwittingly Pavarotti in difficulty, as they had in his repertoire many songs in common.
Meanwhile, his success continued. Merola became a singer and an actor known throughout Italy. In 1981 he made his best film, “Lacrime napulitane” “Neapolitan tears”, directed by Ciro Ippolito, and with a cast of highly respected, which was attended by Angela Luce, Pupella Maggio, Benedetto Casillo.
At the end of the eighties Mario Merola was accused of Mafia association, from which then was completely acquitted. This court case slowed his career.
On 7 November 2006, while he was in Castellammare for a show, he became ill and was hospitalized for indigestion. On 12 November died for cardiac arrest. The funeral will be held in the Carmine church in Naples. The square in front of the church and the adjacent piazza Mercato greeted a crowd of his fans for the last farewell to the “King of Sceneggiata”.
Classic Neapolitan song
The classic song in Naples count on two different interpretations: the most genuinely popular, sung by singers with no academic background, but with the innate skill of those who has always felt to sing those songs, and the more sophisticated, played by so-called “jacket singers”, those singers who presented themselves to the public well-dressed. Singers had studied to the singing schools, such as the Conservatory of Naples, and then showed their repertoire of classic songs with all musical rules.
Nunzio Gallo was among the most popular Neapolitan song interpreters. He had studied at the Conservatory of Naples with excellent results, educating his voice to the singing with tenor timbre and then baritone. Nunzio Gallo was born in 1928. He belonged to a family of modest merchants of Pignasecca, street-market on the outskirts of the Quartieri Spagnoli.
In 1945 he participated, seventeen, a show at the Theater Delle Palme getting a resounding success. Following this, he abandoned his conservatory studies and devoted himself to pop music, playing the classic Neapolitan repertoire. In 1948, after winning a competition of RAI, he was hired as a singer. In 1954 he took part in a performance of “La Traviata” by Verdi at the Teatro San Carlo, together with the famous soprano Renata Tebaldi.
Nunzio Gallo, now singer of great success, was not limited to the Neapolitan repertoire and to perform in various Piedigrotta Festivals and Naples festivals, but ranged to his repertoire by presenting songs also many Italian Song Festival of Sanremo. In 1956 he had his victory at the Sanremo Festival with the song “Corde della mia chitarra”, who sang paired with Claudio Villa. One of his biggest hits was “Sedici anni”.
He participated in numerous films demonstrating his versatile artist vein. As an actor demonstrated a skill equal to that of a singer.
He also made a profitable management activities, managing various singing competitions on many squares and theaters in Italy, where he had the opportunity to discover new singing talent.
On February 22, 2008, Nunzio Gallo died in a clinic in Telese Terme after months of hospitalization due to a brain hemorrhage. His four sons: Gianfranco, Massimiliano, Jerry and Loredana have all followed in his footsteps as actors and singers.
He was a sophisticated singer of the Neapolitan classical song. He was born in Naples in 1912. His father was the poet Ernesto Murolo. Roberto Murolo was been in his youth a talented sportsman. His specialty was the dips. He was also honored by Mussolini, in Piazza Venezia (Rome), for its sporting merits.
His house was frequented by leading Neapolitan poets and musicians: Salvatore Di Giacomo, Raffaele Viviani, Libero Bovio. These meetings sustained his passion for music.
Roberto Murolo began his artistic career by founding his own quartet which he named “MIDA”, taking the initials of the surnames of its components: Murolo, Imperatrice, Diacova and Arcamone. He toured Europe playing American music with this quartet.
After the war ended he returned to Italy where he performed for a long time at the Club Tragara Capri, playing the Neapolitan classical repertoire to the manner of the French chansonnier. He recorded several albums with some success in sales, also participated as an actor and singer in several films.
In 1954 he was accused of corruption of minors and spent a period in jail. The appeal process was sentenced to 11 months imprisonment on probation.
Following conviction he renounced for a long period at public appearances, preferring to devote himself to music study. In this period he recorded “Napoletana. Antologia cronologica della canzone napoletana”. A collection of LP in which presented all the Neapolitan song production singing with his particular vocal timbre.
Since 1990 he began to work intensively with concerts and records in which duet with Fabrizio De Andrè, Mia Martini, Consiglia Licciardi.
Roberto Murolo died in his house in via Cimarosa to Vomero on March 13, 2003.
His house, which was also that of his father Ernesto Murolo, as remembered by a marble plaque affixed on the wall of the building, is now the headquarters of the Fondazione Roberto Murolo.
Jazz and Rock in Naples
After the war, the Jazz and Rock music became very popular with the arrival of the American Allies. It was the type of music requested by the military in Naples came to spend their licenses from the front. Most of the soldiers in the city were African Americans who got jazz rhythm.
Renato Carosone was born in the Mercato neighborhood streets in 1920. His father was a theater manager who delighted to play the mandolin. He took up the study of the piano accompanied by skilled masters: Orfeo Albanese, Vincenzo Romaniello and Celeste Capuana. He graduated at age 17 in piano with Maestro Vincenzo Curcio.
He immediately had an engagement with an orchestra that had to do a long tour in Africa. The orchestra was performing at a restaurant Massawa in Eritrea. Shortly after he moved to Asmara where he met the Venetian Italia Levidi who married shortly after.
He moved to Addis Ababa and became musical director of the theater Odeon and namesake nightclub. During his stay in Addis Ababa he began to create his repertoire of Jazz and Rock and Roll for the British military of the place.
After the war, he returned to Italy, he put together a trio with Peter Van Wood on guitar and Gegé Di Giacomo, grandson of the famous poet Salvatore, on drums. The trio was performing at the Shaker Club, legendary night club of Via Partenope, located in the basement of the hotel Miramare.
He began to present its innovative songs in this night club: Maruzzella, Tu vuò fa’ l’americano, Torero, having an immediate success thanks to the guitarist’s skill and acrobatic solos of Gege Di Giacomo, who in addition to playing drums, did the singer backup of Carosone.
Renato Carosone was the first musician singer of Italian television. Only four hours after the opening of the TV in Italy, he and his orchestra were on the screen with the program “L’orchestra delle quindicio”. The ensamble, which had been abandoned by Peter Van Wood, had meanwhile expanded with the entry of Franco Cerri on guitar, Claudio Bernardini, voice, later replaced by Pietro Giorgetti. Alberto Pizzigoni, guitar, and Richard Rauchi, saxophone joined.
In 1958 Renato Carosone and his ensamble did a memorable tour in America, where they performed at Carnegie Hall, which until then had only hosted classical music.
In 1959, at the height of success, suddenly and inexplicably Renato carosone announced his retirement from acting.
Only in 1975 he began to show up in public. His new debut was at Viareggio Bussola, club of Sergio Bernardini. RAI filming the event, sending its on the air with the title “Bentornato Carosone (Welcome back Carosone)”. He continued his artistic activity by interpreting his hits in an ironic and sophisticated key, and performing as a concert pianist.
Renato Carosone died in Rome on 20 May 2001. He had donated his piano to the well-known singer Gigi D’Alessio, who was also a great piano concert artist, graduated from the Conservatory of Naples.
Peppino di Capri
Peppino di Capri is the rock sound of the Neapolitan song which has resulted in the twist, the rhythm that he has imported into Italy.
Giuseppe Faiella, his real name, was born in the island of Capri in 1939. His grandfather who played in the band of Capri, and his father, who managed a music discs and instruments shop, were two big music fans. As a child he began studying piano but, just fourteen, he was performing with his friends on the small stages of the night clubs of Ischia and Capri, abandoning the study of the instrument.
Peppino, with the band “Capri Boys”, which included Nino Amenta, Ettore Falconieri, Mario Cenci and Gabriele Varano, was noticed by record manager Carisch who invited them to Milan to record some songs. The five arrived in Milan aboard a Fiat 1100 and recorded 10 songs. On the advice of Carisch, Peppino Faiella assumed the stage name of Peppino di Capri and the band changed its name to “The Rockers”. They were presented as “Peppino di Capri e i suoi Rockers”.
In 1958 Carisch published the 10 songs in five 45s. The peculiarity was that they had a great success, not with songs of the record A-side but those relegated to the B-side. In fact, the third disc went on sale, the A-side “Pummarola boat” and B-side “Nun è peccato”, and the fifth with A-side “Mbraccio to me” and B-side “Malatia” had a great sales success with their respective B-sides. “Nun è peccato” and “Malatia” became two hits of Peppino di Capri.
In the 60s the singer was involved in several films, so-called “musicarelli (musicals)”: Vicino ‘o mare, Se piangi tu, Lassame. Also he participated in the film “Maurizio, Peppino e le indossatrici” with Maurizio Arena.
In those years imported into Italy the Twist rhythm with the success “Let’s twist again”, launched in America by Chubby Checker. The song was so successful in Italy that even Chubby Checker sang its as Peppino di Capri.
In the 70s he resumed his artistic activities by renewing its repertoire after a period of crisis, while keeping to the old songs that brought him success. He participated in a total of 15 Sanremo festivals. In 1973 and 1976 he winned two festivals with “Un grande amore e niente più” and “Non lo faccio più”. 1973 was the year he launched his greatest success singing: “Champagne.”
In recent years he has taken part in several films: Terra bruciata, Capri. Very particularly ironic role played by him in the last film he starred in “Natale con il Boss (Christmas with the boss)” in which Peppino plays the Boss. In the film a mob boss does a facelift, but a misunderstanding he, rather than take the form of Leonardo di Caprio, assumes those of Peppino di Capri.
Peppino has marked a milestone in the Neapolitan song, which while retaining the Neapolitan melody line, has managed to combine tradition with rhythms from America: the Rock, the Twist, the Blues.
A group of young musicians attempted the renewal of music and Neapolitan songs in a new rhythmic key, combining the Rythm and Blues African-American to the traditional Neapolitan music. This renewal reminded the first experiments already made after the war, encouraged by the presence of African American military in the city. The main protagonists of this “new” Neapolitan music were: Pino Daniele, Enzo Gragnaniello, Rino Zurzolo, Tullio De Piscopo, Enzo Avitabile, James Senese.
The most important exponent of this “sound” was Pino Daniele. Giuseppe Daniele was born in one of the most popular and historic districts of Naples in 1955, near the church of Santa Chiara. Son of a modest worker, attended elementary school at the Guglielmo Oberdan school, behind Palazzo Gravina (Faculty of Architecture), where he had as his classmate Enzo Avitabile. He continued his studies at the commercial college A. Diaz in Via Tribunali.
After graduation he gave vent to his passion for music. He began in “Batracomiomachia” ensamble with Zurzolo and Avitabile, then he continued as a guitarist playing in various groups and participating in several recordings of songs.
In 1976 he joined ensemble “Napoli Centrale” as a bassist, where he developed his skills by taking advantage of the presence in the team of James Senese who then went on to work with him even later. In 1977 he launched the very well known songs “Napule”, which he claimed to have written at age 18, and “Na tazzulella e café”.
In the early ’80s he opened the concert of Bob Marley in Milan. He then recorded the album “Nero a metà (Half-black)” by which inaugurated his Blues sound. The album was dedicated to half blacks Neapolitan musicians who contributed to the Blues in Neapolitan sauce: James Senese (son of an African-American) and Mario Musella (son of a Native American), all members of the “Neapolitan power” fusion of Rock, Blues, Jazz.
It was a happy decade to Pino Daniele who continued his success which was also international. He sang at the San Siro Stadium with Carlos Santana and Bob Dylan. He did records with Chick Corea and George Benson. He went on tour in Europe with the world’s leading artists. He closed the decade with the album “Mascalzone Latino” which became the name of the sailing team which participated in the America’s cup.
In the 90s, he had heart problems, and therefore slowed his frantic artistic activity. In 1995, after a tour in Italy, he recorded “Non calpestare I fiori nel deserto” in which mixed pop, Eastern sound and African sound along with Neapolitan sounds. The album was the record’s success, followed two years later by another album “Dimmi cosa succede sulla Terra” which also had more success than the last.
In 2008 he returned to play with his old “band” friends: De Piscopo, Senese, Amoruso, Zurzolo, Esposito with which recorded a triple CD with 45 pieces, including new compositions and old hits. In that year he made a concert in Piazza del Plebiscito which was attended also Giorgia, Avion Travel, Nino D’Angelo, Irene Grandi and Gigi D’Alessio. It was his triumph, in his place, in his hometown, with the audience that he had most loved. The concert was shot by RAI and broadcast live.
Pino Daniele died due to a heart attack January 4, 2015, while he tried to reach the Sant’Eugenio hospital in Rome from his Orbetello home, after his performance in the television broadcast “L’anno che verrà”, shooting in Courmayeur of December 31, 2014,
Ettore De Mura, Enciclopedia della canzone napoletana, Napoli, Il Torchio, 1969
Pietro Gargano e Gianni Cesarini “La canzone napoletana”
Antonio Sciotti, Gilda Mignonette: Napoli-New York solo andata, edizioni Magmata, 2007
Gianni Cesarini, Roberto Murolo – La storia di una voce. La voce di una storia, F. Pagano Ed. 1990
Renato Carosone con Federico Vacalebre, Un americano a Napoli, Sperling & Kupfer, MI, 2000
Marcella Russano, Nero a metà – Pino Daniele, storia di una straordinaria rivoluzione blues, Milano, Rizzoli, 2015