I ventured to Hoboken yesterday to pay my respects to singer Jimmy Roselli who died on June 30th. His funeral mass was held at St.
Ann’s Church, which is preparing for its annual festa. Approximately 100 people were in attendance, including family and local residents.
Roselli’s renditions of Neapolitan classics were the soundtrack of a generation of Italian Americans—especially in the northeast—whose lives existed between neighborhood-based, working-class immigrant parents and the consumer-based, Italy-centric “new” Italian-American ethnicity. His fans were familiar with and often knowledgeable of the cadences in turn-of-the century Campanian dialects that flourished here over the course of a century.
I have to admit I wasn’t always fan. As a teenager, I ran from the over-the-top orchestrations and histrionic emoting that came to identify the Neapolitan sound of nightclub music. “Mama” didn’t bring me to tears and “‘A Tazza‘e Café” wasn’t my idea of dance music.
Over time I have become more ecumenical musically and more appreciative of Roselli in particular. Out of the all the Italian-American singers of his generation he perhaps is alone in being able to sing in Neapolitan, enunciating properly the words in a heartfelt delivery. His use and control of vibrato is at the heart of the emotional impact his singing conveys.
In 2002, director Paolo Santoni highlighted Roselli in his documentary Neapolitan Heart, a refreshing look at the transnational aspects of Neapolitan music. Any passione for Neapolitan music that ignores Jimmy Roselli’s music and legacy does so to its own detriment.