Making the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story

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9780374199272: Making the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story

The fascinating life of an Italian American icon.

The mob couldn't live with Jimmy Roselli and it couldn't live without him. Roselli is Hoboken's other great singer, and to a greater degree than Frank Sinatra, Roselli maintained his ties to his old neighborhood and its people--indeed, he made a career of those ties. He's their link to their cultural heritage and Italy, and continues to sing a good half of his repertoire in Italian. But this didn't stop his wiseguy following from getting angry at him from time to time.

"When I started singing big," Roselli told biographer David Evanier, "the tough guys were in the front row with the big cigars. They loved me so much they wanted to kill me. But their mothers and sisters and their wives wouldn't allow it." Roselli sang his best-loved song, "Little Pal," at John Gotti, Jr.'s wedding reception. Mobster Larry Gallo was buried with a Roselli record in his hands. "Hell of a guy," Roselli says of Gallo. "Nice, warm individual."

Hoboken's unsung singer feuded with Sinatra, stood up to shakedown artists, befriended godfathers, and now has thirty-six recordings in print. A captivating story of a brilliant entertainer, Making the Wiseguys Weep is also a colorful portrait of Italian American culture from the 240 saloons that lined Hoboken's streets to the bright lights of New York City.

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About the Author:

David Evanier's work has appeared in The Nation, The New York Times Book Review, and New York. He is the author of Red Love and The One-Star Jew. He lives in California.

From Publishers Weekly:

Relegated to the sidelines as the other Italian-American crooner from Hoboken, N.J., Jimmy Roselli (b. 1925) has had to fight to escape from the shadow of Sinatra and from the tentacles of the Mafia. In this engaging portrait of the Neopolitan-style tenor, little known outside the New York City area, Evanier (Red Love) traces Roselli's hardscrabble life?from the tenements of Hoboken's Little Italy (where he was raised?after his mother died and his father left?by his grandfather, a longshoreman who spoke no English) to his long years eking out a living as a diner owner and singing in dives. Roselli?whose passionate, big-range voice makes women swoon and mobsters break down?didn't get his big break until his late 30s, with songs such as "Mala Femmena" and "Innamorata" and the saloon standards "Little Pal" and "When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New." Evanier documents how Roselli's reluctance to give in to the Mafia hurt his career: while he associated with a few mobsters (he was friends with Sam Giancana and sang at John Gotti Jr.'s wedding), he had to fight the mob bosses who wanted more than their fair share of his profit. As Evanier points out, Roselli's stubbornness and emotional business dealing didn't help either. Evanier lets those who have known Roselli throughout the years?family, friends, promoters and musicians?tell his story and embellishes the text with the singer's own words. As rich as these comments are (Sinatra, says Roselli, "throws firecrackers, big bombs, under somebody's chair. He don't even know how to have fun, this guy"), the number of quotes sometimes slows the narrative pace. However, Evanier's depiction of Italian-American life is vivid, as is the image of Roselli, the irrepressible singer who shyly opens each sold-out performance with his grandfather's words of encouragement: "Cante, guaglione, cante!" (Sing, little one, sing!). Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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