Author Sonny Girard Remembers Jimmy Roselli

The article below was written by author Sonny Girard. The link to Sonny’s website is:

Jimmy Roselli died last week. If not for the technology that preserves music beyond a mortal’s lifetime, we would have lost some of the best Neapolitan vocals of the past century. Though ten years younger than Frank Sinatra, Jimmy was brought up just a few doors from him in Hoboken, New Jersey. His greatest inspiration, as he always reminded us, was his grandfather. His Neapolitan love songs always kept his grandfather alive in him. As I listen to him singing now, I’m brought back to scattered memories of my own that he always evokes.

Jimmy was popular among mostly Italian-Americans at a time when the community was repulsed by the transformation of traditional values to the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll of the Sixties. He gave them a link to their values of the past that was much more visceral than Sinatra, who was also idolized by the community, ever did. Sinatra gave you beautiful sounds and memories; Roselli reached inside you and permeated every cell; evoked emotions that made you cry with joy. The title of his 1998 book, “Making the Wiseguys Weep,” tells it all.

Yes, Jimmy Roselli had a universal following among mobsters, and, yes, he made every one of them cry at one song or another. His voice had heart, and it cracked the hearts of the toughest guys. Unfortunately, as much as they loved him, many came to despise as they got to know him better. I remember him catching a slap because of some snotty remark he passed to one guy. I remember him getting blackballed by Sinatra because he snubbed singing at a party for Frank’s mom, Dolly.

But those are not the memories that will be uppermost in my mind when I hear him croon “Malafemmena,” or “Statte Vicino Amme,” or “Little Pal.” “Malafemmena,” or “Bad Woman,” was Jimmy’s first big hit. I can see myself now, all suited up in sharkskin or mohair, with custom shirts and ties and alligator shoes, hearing the song play over and over in the Cocoa Poodle’s jukebox. The memories are of all my similarly dressed pals, milling around the bar, singing along, and watching the door: Larry, Mooney, Ricky, Ralphie Goodness, Roy Roy, Smokey, and maybe a dozen or two more (not naming those still living). I will carry a memory of each, some great, some not so much (even they get better with time), for all my days, and Jimmy’s music keeps them popping up to the front of my mind. I will always remember the intensity of their passion as Larry and Ricky sang along with Jimmy when “Statte Vicino Amme” was either playing on the jukebox or at our ringside table when Jimmy sang it onstage.

Jimmy also brings back my mother. He was the first live act she had ever seen, when I brought her to the Copacabana. She cried along with everyone else when Jimmy hit the famous high c singing “Vesta la Giubbia,” at Carnegie Hall. When Jimmy got down on one knee on my table at the Shore, and crooned directly to my sister, Susan, she slowly slid down in her chair till she was completely under the table.

I also remember Jimmy for Jimmy. I remember him dining with us on Sunday at Larry’s house; also the day his assistant smashed his head on the glass sliding doors that were so clean he couldn’t see them. There was Jimmy at the Boulevard, at the San Su San, and, of course, the Copa. We’d see him every night. One night he admired an outfit I was wearing, which I told him I would have given to him if he wasn’t too fat to wear it. Now, I’m too fat to wear it, if, in fact, I still had it lying around.

Of all the songs Jimmy has ever done, there is one that is the most important to most street guys is “Little Pal.” It is, regardless of what outsiders think, the ultimate mob song. I can see Larry singing it to a young relative on his knee when he knew he was dying of cancer. I sang it to my three year old daughter the night before I left to serve my first prison sentence.

It goes:

Little Pal, if daddy goes away,

Promise you’ll be good from day to day.

Do as mother says, and never sin.

Be the man your daddy might have been.

Your daddy didn’t have an easy start,

So here’s the wish that’s dearest to my heart:

What I couldn’t be, Little Pal,

I want you to be, Little Pal.

I want you to sing, to be happy and gay.

Be good to your mommy while your daddy’s away.

Each night, how I pray, Little Pal,

That you’ll turn out just right, my Little Pal.

And if some day, some day you should be,

On a new, a new daddy’s knee,

Think about me, now and then, my Little Pal.

And so, till we meet again,

Heaven knows, knows where or when,

Think about me, now and then, Little Pal.

Pray for me, now and then, my Little Pal.


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