Here's a welcome switch: an Italian-American writer who discovers his ethnic identity not in food or gangsterology, but in the golden age of Italian-American singing, a period of almost twenty years when the sons (and some daughters) of immigrants dominated the American airwaves. Sure, we all know about Frank, Dean, and Tony. And Mark Rotella neatly summarizes the ups and downs of their phenomenal careers. But he also takes us way beyond the superstars, into the lives and hit songs of the many lesser-known, sometimes forgotten talents. Pierino Como, Francesco LoVecchio, Alfredo Cocozza, Alfred Cini, Giovanna Babbo, and Louis Scaglione all charted hits, and some made names for themselves on TV and in the movies. Of course, they were known by their stage names: Perry Como, Frankie Laine, Mario Lanza, Al Martino, Joni James, and Lou Monte. 


In a way, the story begins in an earlier era with the first bestselling records cut by anyone in America: Enrico Caruso's early-20th-century renditions of the classic "Core 'ngrato" and "O Sole Mio." Russ Columbo was well on his way to an equally successful career with his romantic baritone when he died at an early age. So, it wasn't until the Forties that Italian-American singers really took off, from Sinatra's brilliant blend of Italian bel canto, Bing Crosby cool, and Billie Holiday blues to the irrepressible Louis Prima, whose antic performances relied on a crazy mix of Italian dialect scat-singing, deep southern call and response, and a general wildness that certainly inspired many rock and rollers of the future. Rotella, for his part, combines anecdote, autobiography, and interviews for this amazing tale of cross-cultural influence—as Italian-American singers incorporated domestic styles, the American mainstream absorbed them musically and Italians in general into the culture at large. Rotella arranges his forty brief chapters by song title—the soundtrack to both his childhood and the lives of his parents, and it's the perfect place to start downloading. Whether you begin with Julius La Rosa's "Eh, cumpari" or Jerry Vale's "Innamorata," you will find that the proof is in the singer and the song. 

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.