Giuseppe Accardi (1889 - 1956):
Grandpa's Voice in Song

This page is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, Giuseppe (Joe), who died before I ever got to know him. Giuseppe Accardi was born near Marsala, Sicily in 1889, the son of Giacomo and Rosaria (Lamonica) Accardi.  He was a wine inspector for the Woodhouse winery in Marsala when he immigrated to the United States in 1921, partly on the advice of a doctor who was treating him at the time.  The musty wine cellars (cantinas) in which he worked made him susceptible to bouts of pneumonia.  He was accompanied to America by his wife Anna (1889-1986), father-in-law Nicolo Passalaqua (1863-1941), daughter Rosaria (Sadie) and son Giacomo (Jack).  The journey lasted seventeen days on the Italian steamship San Rossore.  They settled in Beloit, Wisconsin where he worked as a core finisher for the Fairbanks Morse Company. He and my grandmother had two more children, Ignazia (Liz) and Nicolo (Nick, my father). Grandpa died in 1956 when I was five years old. Salute, nonno! This article, written by your namesake, is in your honor.

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. 

The Library of Congress

The author
listening to Grandpa
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!


The Songs

Having already obtained cassette copies of these songs thanks to the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison, my Aunt Sadie later found a couple of 78rpm records and several pieces of sheet music from the recording session among her belongings.  Here are the songs performed by my grandfather, Joe Accardi, as recorded by Helene Stratman-Thomas and Bob Draves on August 21, 1946. One of the songs Grandpa sang, 'A Vucchella, was noted in one source as Caruso's favorite Neapolitan song and can be found among current re-issues of his recordings. It was also a song featured in the film, The Great Caruso, starring Mario Lanza in the title role. The seven song titles as she noted them, with my corrections and composer credits are provided here, accompanied by links to mp3 audio files.  There also is a link to the song lyrics.
Reginella, L. Bovio
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

Lyrics to the Songs

(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.)

Final Notes

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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