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Friday
May232014

Nick LaRocca

                                       Dominic James "Nick" LaRocca (April 11, 1889 – February 22, 1961)

Nick La Rocca was an early jazz cornetist and trumpeter and the leader of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. He is the composer of one of the most recorded jazz classics of all-time, "Tiger Rag". He was part of what is generally regarded as the first recorded jazz band, a band which recorded and released the first jazz recording, "Livery Stable Blues" in 1917.

Nick LaRocca was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of poor Sicilian immigrants. His father was Girolamo LaRocca of SalaparutaSicily and his mother was Vita De Nina of PoggiorealeSicily. Young Nick was attracted to the music of the brass bands in New Orleans and covertly taught himself to play cornet against the wishes of his father who hoped his son would go into a more prestigious profession. LaRocca at first worked as an electrician, playing music on the side.

From around 1910 through 1916 he was a regular member of Papa Jack Laine's bands. While not considered as one of the most virtuosic or creative of the Laine players, he was well regarded for playing a solid lead with a strong lip which allowed him to play long parades without let up or to play several gigs in a row on the same day.

In 1916 he was chosen as a last-minute replacement for Frank Christian in Johnny Stein's band to play a job up inChicago, Illinois. This band became the famous Original Dixieland Jass Band, making the first commercially issued jazz recordings in New York City in 1917. These recordings were hits and made the band into celebrities.

Soon other New Orleans musicians began following the O.D.J.B.'s path, arriving in New York to play jazz. LaRocca was uneasy about competition. Frank Christian recalled that LaRocca offered him $200 and a return railway ticket to go back home. After a band featuring New Orleans musicians Alcide NunezTom Brown, and Ragbaby Stevens won a battle of the bands against the O.D.J.B., drummer Ragbaby found his drum heads all mysteriously slashed.

The band gave LaRocca the nickname "Joe Blade", and published a song called "Joe Blade, Sharp as a Tack".

LaRocca led this band on tours of England and the United States into the early 1920s, when he suffered a nervous breakdown. He returned to New Orleans and retired from music, going into the construction and contracting business. His chair in the band was taken by Henry Levine, a teenaged trumpeter devoted to traditional jazz stylings. Levine later led one of the house bands on NBC's radio series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street.

In 1936 Nick LaRocca reunited the ODJB for a successful tour and more recordings. LaRocca proclaimed that he and his band were the inventors of the now nationally popular swing music. He and the reunited Original Dixieland Jass Band performed "Tiger Rag" in The March of Time newsreel segment titled "Birth of Swing," released to U.S. theaters February 19, 1937.[1] Personality conflicts broke up the band again in 1937, and LaRocca again retired from music. He died in New Orleans in 1961.

References

     Synopsis (PDF), The March of Time Newsreels, HBO Archive, Brunn, H.O. The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1960. Reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1977. ISBN 0-306-70892-  Stewart, Jack. "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's Place in the Development of Jazz." New Orleans International Music Colloquium, 2005.

Thursday
Oct032013

RAFFAELLA OTTIANO

Born in Venice, Italy, on March 4, 1888, Raffaella Ottiano, known by most as Rafaela, was an Italian-American stage and film actress who appeared in approximately 45 motion pictures opposite actors as Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Barbara Stanwyck, Tyrone Power, Mae West, Peter Lorre, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. She moved to New York and appeared on Broadway in Sweeney Todd (1924), and the play version of Grand Hotel (more)

Friday
Sep272013

MARCELLO MASTROIANNI

The ultimate Italian lover, sexy, charming, clever, funny, Marcello Mastroianni personifies the ideal man, and if that isn’t enough, he was also one of the best actors in the history of cinema. Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni was born on September 28, 1924, in Fontana Liri, a small town in the province of Frosinone, but soon his family moved to Turin and then Rome, in 1933, where he grew up. He was the son of Ida Irolle and Ottone (more)

Wednesday
Sep112013

JOHN CAPILLO AND THE COLUMBIA ASSOCIATION

Giovanni ‘John’ Capillo was born on February 19, 1886, in ScillaCalabria, the son of Bruno Capillo, a sailor, and Maria Fedele. He had two younger brothers: Pasquale (Pat), and Antonio (Tony). John was only 9 years old when his family decided to emigrate to America. They arrived at Ellis Island on June 1, 1895, after a very long trip from Calabria to Liguria, then weeks of sailing from Genoa to New York, traveling in steerage. They moved to 148 Mulberry Street, in Little Italy. On December (more)

Wednesday
Sep112013

PETER GANCI

Peter James Ganci, New York City Fire Department's highest-ranking uniformed officer at the time, died on September 11, 2001, during the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Born on October 27, 1946 in Queens, New York, Peter lived in North Massapequa, Long Island, with his wife, Kathleen; two sons, Peter III, a firefighter, and Christopher; and a daughter, Danielle. A 33-year department veteran, decorated repeatedly for bravery, Peter Ganci joined the fire department in the 1960's: he became lieutenant in 1977; captain in 1983; battalion chief in 1987 (more)

Friday
Sep062013

SALVATORE FERRAGAMO

'Normally I do not institute new fashions, there are a number of dress and shoe designers who struggle to be – different - for the sake of being different, meaning that they want to impose a startling new fashion line upon the woman. But, if designers must wait for their customers to become conscious of new styles who, then, determines fashion? The answer is: new fashion begin in the mind of the designer. He must not stifle all his ideas merely because the world is not yet ready for them. I have no season.” (more)

Friday
Aug302013

JOE PETROSINO

Born on August 30, 1860, in Padula, a town in the province of Salerno, Campania region, Giuseppe "Joe" Petrosino was a legendary New York City police officer who was a pioneer in the fight against organized crime. Joe’s father, Prospero, was a tailor who married Maria Giovanna Mugno after his first wife, Maria Giuseppa Arato, died leaving him with two sons, Michele and Antonio. Prospero and Maria Giuseppa had three children: Caterina Maria Paolina,  Joe, and Vincenzo. Poverty was rampant so Joe and his cousin, Antonio Puppolo, (more)

Wednesday
Aug282013

BEN GAZZARA

Biagio Anthony Gazzarra was born in New York City on August 28, 1930, the son of Italian immigrants Angelina Cusumano, from Castrofilippo, and Antonio Gazzarra, from Canicattì, both in the province of Agrigento, Sicily. Antonio was a laborer and a carpenter. Ben lived on East 29th Street and First Avenue; when he was 11, he found out there was a drama program at Madison Square Boys and Girls Club, located across the street, and he signed up discovering his love for (more)

Saturday
Aug172013

WALTER LANTZ

Space MouseWoody WoodpeckerAndy PandaHomer PigeonChilly WillyCharlie ChickenWally Walrus and many more characters were created by one legendary artist: Walter Benjamin Lantz. He made more than 800 short films, about 200 of them featuring the woodpecker (more)

Friday
Aug092013

FRANCESCA BRAGGIOTTI 

Francesca Braggiotti, an Italian-American dancer, actress and dubber, was born in Florence on October 17, 1902, to Isidoro, an Italian tenor, and Lily, an American mezzo-soprano from Boston. Both her parents were converted to Buddhism; she was the second of eight brothers and sisters, all destined for success in the arts. The family settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, after (more)

Sunday
Aug042013

MARIA BONFANTI

Born in Milan on February 16, 1845Maria Bonfanti is one of the most important dancers in history. Her father died when she was an infant, and when she was nine her mother sent her to the dance academy of Carlo Blasis  where she studied for 5 years. At sixteen, she made her stage debut; six months later she was the prima ballerina at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. On September 12, 1866, she danced for the first time at 3,200-seat Niblo's Garden in New York in The Black Crook, known as "the first musical comedy", which ran for two years, followed by The White Fawn, another musical (more)

Tuesday
Jul302013

DOM DELUISE

Dom DeLuise was born on August 1, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of John and Vincenza DeStefano. He was the youngest of three children, having an older brother, Nicholas "Nick" DeLuise, and an older sister, Antoinette DeLuise-Daurio. His lifelong stardom ranges from stage to screen to television, from actor to singer to dancer to director, as well as accomplishments as an author and chef. A graduate of the High School of Performing Arts, (more)

Sunday
Jul282013

PAOLO SOLERI

Born in Turin, Italy on June 21, 1919,Paolo Soleri was awarded his Ph. D with highest honors in architecture from the Torino Politecnico in 1946. In 1947 he came to the United States and spent a year and a half in fellowship with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Arizona, and Taliesin East in Wisconsin. During this time, he gained international recognition for a bridge design displayed at the Museum of Modern Art and published in The Architecture of Bridges by Elizabeth Mock. He returned to Italy in 1950 (more)

Thursday
Jul252013

AL TALIAFERRO

Born on August 29, 1905 in Montrose, Colorado, Charles Alfred Taliaferro was a Disney comics artist best known for his work on the Donald Duck (Paperino) comic strip from 1938 until his death. He co-created a number of characters, including Huey (Qui), Dewey (Quo) and Louie (Qua), Grandma Duck (Nonna Papera), Daisy Duck (Paperina), Bolivar, and The three (more)

Wednesday
Jul242013

FRANK ZAPPA

Self-taught composer, conductor, musician, guitarist, record producer, recording engineer, artist, social satirist,and film director, Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 21, 1940. His mother, Rose Marie Colimore, was of Italian and French ancestry; his father, Francis Vincent Zappa, a chemist and mathematician, was an immigrant from Partinico, in the province of PalermoSicily. Frank was the eldest of four children raised in an Italian-American household where Italian was spoken often by his parents and grandparents. (more)

Sunday
Jul212013

PERRY COMO

Born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, on May 18, 1912, Pierino Ronald Como was the seventh of the 13 children of Pietro Como (1877–1945), a mill hand and an amateur baritone, and Lucia Travaglini (1883–1961). Pietro and Lucia emigrated from the town of Palena, in the province of ChietiAbruzzo, in 1910 and Perry was the first of their children born in the United States. The Comos spoke Italian at home so Perry did not begin speaking English until he entered school. They had a second-hand organ  (more)

Tuesday
Jul092013

SALVATORE CAPEZIO

Salvatore Capezio was born April 13, 1871 in Muro Lucano, a town in the province of PotenzaBasilicata. After training as a cobbler in Italy, he emigrated to the United States. In 1887, at the age of seventeen, he opened a cobbler's shop at Broadway and 39th Street, diagonally across from the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. The sign above his door (more)

Monday
Jul082013

FRANCESCA VINCIGUERRA AKA FRANCES WINWAR

Born on May 3, 1900, in Taormina, SicilyFrancesca Vinciguerra was a renown Italian-American biographer, translator, and fiction writer. The daughter of Domenico Vinciguerra, a singer, and Giovanna Sciglio, she arrived in the United States with her family when she was seven, in 1907. She grew up in New York City where she attended Hunter College and Columbia University. By the time she was 18, she was fluent in Italian, English and French but she never finished her studies. That year (more)

Wednesday
Jul032013

EMANUELE RONZONI

In 1881, during a time of disease, poverty and political unrest, 11-year old Emanuele Ronzoni emigrated from the small fishing village of San Fruttuoso di Camogli, Genova, to New York. He already knew how to make pasta so he got a job as an underage worker in a macaroni factory (more)

Thursday
Jun272013

ANNETTE FUNICELLO

On April 8, 2013, actress and singer Annette Joanne Funicello passed away. Born in Utica (NY) on October 22, 1942, to Italian-Americans parents - Virginia Albano and Joseph Funicello - she moved with her family to California when she was only four years old. They lived in a trailer park until her father, a mechanic, found work. Annette loved dance and music; at an early age she took dancing lessons and learned to play drums. At 12, she performed as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank: Walt Disney was in the audience and he personally cast her as (more)