MICHAEL JOHN “JIMMY” ROSELLI (DECEMBER 26, 1925 – JUNE 30, 2011) WAS ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ITALIAN-AMERICAN POP SINGERS OF HIS TIME, DURING AN ERA OF FORMIDABLE COMPETITION FROM SUCH PERFORMERS AS FRANK SINATRA, DEAN MARTIN, PERRY COMO, FRANKIE LAINE, VIC DAMONE AND JERRY VALE.
Roselli was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. He had success with the song “Mala Femmena”, which sold over three million records in 1963. It never was a hit song for him, but is considered his signature song. His only pop hit was a remake of “There Must Be A Way”, a song previously recorded by Joni James. It reached number 93 pop (according to Billboard′s pop charts). “There Must Be A Way” was an easy-listening hit, reaching #13 in Billboard and #2 in Record World. The song was recorded in 1967. He also had success with the song “All The Time” that same year. The song reached number 19 easy listening (according to Billboard’s easy listening charts). His third and last hit song was “Please Believe Me” in 1968. That song was number 31 easy listening (according to Billboard’s easy listening charts). Those were his only U.S. hit singles, although his version of “When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New” twice appeared in the UK Singles Chart. It peaked at number 51 in 1983, and number 52 in 1987.
At the beginning of his career, with appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, with Jimmy Durante, and on the famous Copacabana, critics were calling him a ‘miracle'”. As the New Yorker Magazine states, “guys were trying to put a stranglehold on him. He pushed them all away. Although he was in good terms with a number of mob chieftains, he claimed that he had “never done business with organized criminals”. Roselli at times was relegated to selling his music out of the trunk of his car parked in Little Italy in Manhattan (he was the founder and owner of M&R Records).
Jimmy Roselli is a favorite among Italian-Americans and his signature tune “Mala Femmina” is featured twice in Martin Scorsese’s early classic Mean Streets. Roselli sang in perfect Neapolitan dialect. Other Neapolitan songs recorded by Roselli include “Core ‘ngrato”, “Anema e core” and “Scapricciatiello”. Jerry Lewis said of him that “Roselli sings as an Italian should sing”.
He sang the title song “Who Can Say?” for the 1966 Italian documentary film Africa Addio.
A book in the late 1990s entitled Making The Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story was published by David Evanier, who also published a book on the life of Bobby Darin – Roman Candle: The Life of Bobby Darin.
He died in 2011 at his home in Clearwater, Florida.
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