The greatest Italian-American rock and roll stars of the 1950s and 1960s

Many of the most popular rock n' roll singers of the 1950s and 1960s were of Italian heritage.
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When one thinks of Italian singers, individuals such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Al Martino, and Perry Como often come to mind. This is understandable as traditional crooners paved the way for Italian-Americans in the music business.

The rock n' roll era of the 1950s and 1960s was dominated by a strong Italian-American presence. Artists such as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Dion DiMucci, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Johnny Rivers, and so many more. Italian-Americans contributed some of the most memorable songs of the era.

A proud Italian-American myself through my mom, this is an area of music history that I am very passionate about. Let's explore some of the greatest Italian-Americans to ever do it.

The best of the 1950s and 1960s Italian-American rock stars

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Born Francesco Castelluccio on May 3rd, 1934, Frankie Valli would grow up to become a music legend. Valli, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, is most recognized in recent years for being the inspiration behind the acclaimed Broadway musical, Jersey Boys.

Valli and the Four Seasons were consistent hit makers in the 1960s with songs such as "Sherry", "Walk Like A Man", "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Rag Doll', and "Let's Hang On." Valli's signature falsetto was unique and beyond catchy. They became one of the best-selling groups of the decade and rivaled West Coast-based The Beach Boys. The Four Seasons were rightfully inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Valli along with Frank Sinatra put Jersey on the musical map. Icons such as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and Whitney Houston would follow.

While Valli is often associated with the Four Seasons, he also enjoyed a highly successful solo career. His song, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", became a 60s pop staple. Valli also got to sing the title track for the 1970s film, Grease. One of my favorite movies of all time.

I have been a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons fan since I was a small child. I even dressed up as Valli for Halloween one year and lip-synched to "Sherry." It's personal. Valli and the Four Seasons are my grandparents' favorite group of all time and my grandfather even personally knew Valli back in the day in Jersey before he became famous. One of my fondest memories is when I had the honor to meet Frankie in 2017.

Dion DiMucci (Dion and the Belmonts)

Doo-wop, one of my favorite genres of music, was beyond popular in the late 1950s. It was led by the African-American and Italian-American communities.

Dion DiMucci, born on July 18th, 1939 in The Bronx, New York City, fronted one of the most well-known Italian-American doo-wop groups, Dion and the Belmonts. With DiMucci on lead, the Belmonts released songs such as "A Teenager in Love", "I Wonder Why", and "Where or When."

DiMucci would eventually pursue a solo career and had a string of hits including "Runaround Sue", "The Wanderer". "Lovers Who Wander", and "Abraham, Martin and John." Dion was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He remains active in the music business and released his latest album, "Girl Friends", in March 2024.

I have been a big fan of Dion's since high school and remember vividly listening to "I Wonder Why" with my cousin while visiting family in Jersey one summer. Beautiful memories. He remains on my concert bucket list.

Johnny Maestro (The Crests and The Brooklyn Bridge)

Another Italian-American doo-wop legend is Johnny Maestro, born John Mastrangelo on May 7th, 1939 in Manhattan, New York City. With the Crests, he sang lead on the 1950s and 1960s classics such as "16 Candles", "Trouble in Paradise", "Step By Step", "The Angels Listened In", and so many other great songs. In my humble opinion, Maestro was one of the greatest vocalists of all time. His voice was unbelievable!

Fortunately for Johnny, his career continued to grow after the doo-wop era. In 1968, he released "Worst That Could Happen" with The Brooklyn Bridge. Many would agree with me, but Maestro was shamefully snubbed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Maestro sadly passed away in March 2010 at 70 years old. I never had the opportunity to see him live, but am so grateful for his records.

Bobby Darin

Bobby Darin was a crooner's crooner. He idolized the likes of Sinatra and wanted to be known as a crooner. However, Darin got his start as a rock n' roll artist. Songs such as "Splish Splash" and "Dream Lover" were pop rock standards of the era. Born Walden Cassotto on May 14th, 1936 in New York City,

Darin would achieve more success with standards such as "Mack the Knife." Bobby sadly passed away at the young age of 37 in December 1973. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. "Splish Splash" has been one of my favorite early rock songs since I was a child.

Frankie Avalon

Mr. Beauty School Drop Out himself, Frankie Avalon was one of the most popular teen idols of his generation. While I struggle to call Avalon a rocker, his musical contributions to the era are unquestioned. Songs such as "Venus" and "Why" put him on the map.

Avalon, born on September 18th, 1940 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, would gain even more recognition for his beach films with fellow Italian-American entertainment legend, Annette Funicello, in the 1960s. The Beach Party series represented the youth culture in a meaningful way.

Avalon perhaps is best known today, however, for his appearance in the film, Grease. Now in his mid-eighties, Avalon still performs and engages with fans around the world. "Venus" is among my favorite "teen idol" songs of the era.

Bobby Rydell

Of all of the Philadelphia-based teen idols, Bobby Rydell is easily my favorite. Born Robert Ridarelli on April 26th, 1942, Rydell was behind some of my favorite songs of the 60s including "We Got Love", "Kissin' Time", "Wild One", "The Cha-Cha-Cha", "Forget Him", "Wildwood Days", and of course his cover of Italian standard, "Volare." Rydell would co-star with Ann-Margret in 1963's Bye Bye Birdie, which was loosely based on Elvis Presley.

Rydell had class and charisma and was a great early rock n' roll star. Another major snub from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in my opinion. When he sadly passed away in April 2022, it felt personal. I had had the privilege to see him perform live multiple times and he was one of my favorite entertainers of his generation.

Connie Francis

Connie Francis is not your typical rock n' roll star. She is more considered a crooner, but she played a big role in 1950s and 1960s youth culture. Born Concetta Franconero on December 12th, 1937, Francis was a teen idol and had hits with songs such as "Where The Boys Are", "Stupid Cupid", "Who's Sorry Now", and "Lipstick on Your Collar." She starred in the major motion picture, "Where The Boys Are", in 1960. I'd be remiss if I didn't include Connie on this list.

Johnny Rivers

Johnny Rivers, born John Ramistella on November 7th, 1942 in New York City, is best known for his covers of popular songs of the era. Songs such as Motown staples, "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" and "The Tracks of My Tears."

Rivers would have hits of his own, including "Secret Agent Man," "The Poor Side of Town," and "Summer Rain." My favorite Rivers song however is "By The Time I Get To Phoenix." Yes, the Glen Campbell song. Interestingly though, Rivers didn't cover this one. He was the first performer to sing it. Campbell covered it and made it a massive success. I have always preferred Johnny's version though, I love his vocals.

Rivers is retired now and in my humble opinion, underrated. However, I am glad he still has a great fan base and that his music is often played on oldies stations. Would have loved to see him perform live but never had the opportunity.

Freddy Cannon

Freddy Cannon, born Frederick Picariello, Jr. on December 4th, 1936, was a prominent early rock n' roll artist. In fact, he was a rocker's rocker. He is best known for "Palisades Park", "Tallahassee Lassie", and "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans." Cannon, now retired, is fondly remembered for his musical contributions. I had the opportunity to see Freddy perform, and he still had it!

The Rascals

The Rascals, composed of Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Gene Cornish, and Dino Danelli, were one of the most popular rock-pop groups of the mid to late 1960s. They had hits such as "Groovin'", "How Can I Be Sure?", "People Got to Be Free", "A Beautiful Morning", and "Good Lovin'". Known for their blue-eyed soul sound, the Rascals created some of the most memorable music of their era.

Interestingly, Cavaliere, Brigati, and Cornish met when they were all part of another group, Joey Dee and the Starliters. While Cornish is not of Italian descent, a majority of the group was. Therefore, it's only right to include them on a list of the greatest Italian-American rock legends. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. I have loved the Rascals for years and they are one of my favorite groups from the 1960s.

Vito Picone and the Elegants

You can probably notice a trend here. I have a great appreciation for doo-wop. The Elegants, led by Vito Picone, are another amazing Italian-American doo-wop group.

Best known for their 1958 number-one song, "Little Star", the Elegants had a wonderful sound. Picone's vocals were excellent. The unfortunate thing was that they only had one major hit, a one-hit wonder.

In my humble opinion, the Elegants deserved much more. Listen to songs like "Please Believe Me", "Get Well Soon", "Little Boy Blue Is Blue No More", "Goodnight", "Bluffin'", and "Tiny Cloud" and you'll hear their potential. They could have easily rivaled Dion and the Belmonts and Picone himself even said that Dion DiMucci considered his group an influence.

It's a what-could-have-been scenario, but thankfully the Elegants have a place in rock n' roll history with "Little Star", which is regarded as one of the greatest doo-wop songs of all time.

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