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Crooner Jimmy Roselli dies

Published: 2011-06-30
Jimmy Roselli Jimmy Roselli, an Italian-American singer whose recording of signature tune “Mala Femmina" was featured twice in Martin Scorsese's “Mean Streets," died on Thursday, June 30, from heart complications. He was 85.

Roselli lived in the shadow of Frank Sinatra. The two singers were raised five houses apart in Hoboken, N.J., and each got his break while in his teens on radio show “Major Bowe's Amateur Hour." David Evanier, who penned the 1998 Roselli biography “Making the Wiseguys Weep," declared in the book's opening line, “Jimmy Roselli is Hoboken's other great singer.”

The Roselli fans who authored the Wikipedia entry on him assert his superiority to Sinatra with this sentence: “Unlike Sinatra, who rarely recorded in Italian and could not speak his mother tongue, Roselli sings in perfect Neapolitan dialect."

Roselli and Sinatra shared a lifelong enmity—mentioned even in the press release announcing Roselli's death—which Roselli partisans assert is one reason he never became more successful than he was. The other reason, they say: He, unlike Sinatra, refused to play ball with the mob.

As the New York Times' Vincent Patrick noted in his review of Evanier's bio, however, Roselli had a certain perverse streak that made it difficult for him to get along with anybody: “He turned down the role of Peppino, the Neapolitan singer in 'The Godfather Part II,' as well as appearances on Johnny Carson's 'Tonight Show' and 'Regis and Kathie Lee,' because none of them would pay what he thought he was worth."

Roselli appeared three times on “The Ed Sullivan Show" but walked off after a perceived slight. Sullivan said, “It's exposure, Jimmy,” to which Roselli responded, “I got so much exposure, I'm gonna catch pneumonia.”

He was nevertheless a talented singer with a natural tenor voice—he never took lessons—who found a certain level of success.


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