Giuseppe Accardi (1889 - 1956):
In 1985, while I was director of the Janesville (WI) Public Library, a library board member asked me if I had a relative named Joseph Accardi from Beloit who sang Italian folk songs on the radio. The question took me by surprise. I responded that my grandfather used to sing, but not professionally to my knowledge. I had, however, learned through conversations with my parents ands relatives over the years that grandpa Accardi was often invited to sing at weddings. I had never gotten the opportunity to hear him.
I asked where she heard these songs and she replied they were part of a series of ethnic folk music on a Wisconsin Public Radio program called Simply Folk. I was floored! I told her I had never heard my grandfather sing. Moreover, I had no idea that any recordings of him existed, least of all anything that would have been available for airplay on public radio!
Later that afternoon I phoned my dad and asked him if Grandpa Accardi ever made a recording of Italian songs, describing what had occurred. He thought about it a while, then said he remembered hearing about grandpa getting an invitation to sing for someone from Madison sometime in the 40's. Dad was serving in army at that time, so he couldn't recall details about the event. On a subsequent visit, my parents gave me the only two photos of grandpa they had. One was of him singing at a wedding!
Making a few phone calls, I eventually was put in contact with Judy Rose, host of Simply Folk and Joan M. Vennie of the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Ms. Woodward verified that during the summer of 1946, Joseph Accardi of Beloit, Wisconsin had been invited to record some Italian folk songs for a Library of Congress project. This was my grandfather! What a thrill! Ms. Vennie provided me with a cassette copy of the songs my grandfather sang. I made duplicate copies of the recording for my parents and other family members, and was interviewed by the local newspaper.More research led me to the Library of Congress and introduced me to the Wisconsin Folk Music Project initiated in 1939. Between 1940 and 1946, the Library of Congress and the University of Wisconsin cosponsored a field survey of Wisconsin folk music. The project sent professor Helene Stratman-Thomas, and other collectors into the field to study the ethnic diversity of the state's musical traditions. These recordings included songs from many cultures, including twenty by Italian immigrants around the State of Wisconsin:
AFS 8395-8396; 8424-8426; 8499B1-2: Two discs containing 20 Italian songs sung by Thomas St. Angelo and Ambrose Degidio of Cumberland; Joe Accardi and Mrs. De Noto of Beloit; and Irene Ruffalo of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
--from Wisconsin Collections in the Archive of Folk Culture in the Library of Congress American Folklife Center).
On August 21, 1946 Ms. Stratman-Thomas, accompanied by technician Bob Draves, recorded my grandfather, Joe Accardi, performing the seven Italian songs listed below. He was 57 years old, though the recording notes say he was 47. A family friend, Rose DeNoto, accompanied him to the session where she recorded three Italian songs (Torna a Surriento, Rimpianto, and Signora Fortuna). The performances were recorded directly to shellac discs and later transferred to tape. They are among nearly 700 songs in twenty languages recorded by Ms. Stratman-Thomas during the 40's and deposited with the Archives of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress. She kept a journal of her recording project in which she describes the session with my grandfather in one of her entries.
The following newspaper article was published in the Janesville Gazette on March 14, 1986. The columnist and I chatted on the phone for a while and I sent him a photograph of grandpa to use. The writer took a few liberties with my information, which was still quite sketchy at best. Also, my Italian language skills at that time were lacking. So, my initial translations for him of what were assumed to have been the song titles were not entirely accurate. I've discovered correct titles and composers through more recent research and having a little better handle on the language.
On July 1, 1998 I visited the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and met Reference Specialists Judith Gray and Ann Hoog. They gave me a copy of the recording session notes, retrieved a reference copy of the recordings for me to hear, and were most helpful in my continuing research. To find grandpa's name in the American Folklife card catalog and hearing the recordings in the building where they are preserved was a great experience. I remain most grateful for that opportunity. Grazie!
Mi chiamano sciurillo, ('A Vucchella, P. Tosti)
Cosa chera nel fior, (Malia, P. Tosti)
Luna mezz'o mare, Paolo Citarella
'A Tazza 'e cafe!, G. Capaldo
A Za Ciccha, ('A Gatta d'a Zza Cicca, Naso-Gallo)
Tic-ti, tic-ta, F. Feola
(Note: These songs have been provided for research and education only. They are not to be reproduced for commercial or profit enterprises of any kind, but they may be used on non-profit, public and community radio broadcasts.)
Grandpa had a large collection of 78 rpm discs, including recordings of Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza, still in the possession of my aunts. I borrowed a number of them for my continuing research, which I have listed in a database entitled Grandpa's 78 rpm Records. The discs are no longer in my possession, though I was able to transfer most of them into digital format.
In 1996, my wife and I made our first trip to Italy, on a walking tour with The Italian Connection. Our guide, Anita Iaconangelo and her partner, chef Emanuele Lorusso, were instrumental in motivating me to create and preserve this tribute to my singing grandfather. In 1999 we made a trip to Sicily, where we met many of my relatives for the first time. Thanks to my parents and relatives for their encouragement and contributions. I have only a sad recollection of Grandpa Accardi. It is of my father holding me up in his arms at the funeral visitation so I could wave and say good-bye to grandpa as he was "sleeping" in his casket. With this tribute I say "Hello, Grandpa!," and thanks for leaving us your voice in song!
E-Mail to: jaccardi @ alumni (dot) nd (dot) edu
Entire contents copyright © 1996-2017 by Joe J. Accardi
Last update: November 2017
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