Ferdinando “Fred” Buscaglione (23 November 1921 – 3 February 1960) was an Italian singer and actor who became very popular in the late 1950’s. His public persona – the character he played both in his songs and his movies – was of a humorous mobster with a penchant for whisky and women.
Ferdinando Buscaglione was born in Turin, Italy on 23 November 1921. The son of a porter, his great passion for music appeared at a very young age. When he was 11, his parents enrolled him at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin. During his teen years, he performed at night clubs in Turin singing jazz and playing double bass and violin.
During World War II, he was incarcerated in an American internment camp in Sardinia. His musical talent was apparent and he was allowed to join the orchestra of the allied radio station of Cagliari. This permitted Buscaglione to continue to make music and to experiment with new sounds and rhythms coming from the U.S. (Most foreign music had been officially forbidden by the Italian Fascist regime.)
After the war, Buscaglione returned to Turin and resumed working as a musician for various bands. He then formed his own group, the Asternovas. During a tour in Switzerland in 1949 he met and married the half-German half-Moroccan entertainer Fatima Robin. In the meantime he was gradually creating his public character, inspired by Clark Gable and Mickey Spillane’s gangsters. His friend Leo Chiosso, a lyricist who wrote many of his songs, told him stories about gangsters and their babes, New York and Chicago, tough men who were ruthless with enemies but easily fell victims to a woman’s charms. Together they wrote the hits that brought nation-wide fame to Buscaglione: Che bambola (Whatta babe!), Teresa non sparare (Theresa, don’t shoot!), Eri piccola così (You were so small), Guarda che luna (Look, What A (beautiful) Moon), Love in Portofino, Porfirio Villarosa, Whisky facile (Easy Whiskey).
After perfecting his routine in night clubs and theatres he started recording his songs in 1955; the first single (a shellac 78rpm record containing ‘Che bambola’ and ‘Giacomino’) sold 1,000,000 copies with close to no promotion, propelling him to a degree of fame he never considered possible.
By the end of 1950s, Buscaglione was one of Italy’s most wanted entertainers. He appeared on advertising campaigns, on television, in movies.
At 38 years of age, he was killed in a car accident when his pink Ford Thunderbird collided with a truck in the early hours before dawn in Rome, of all places, right before the U.S. embassy.
Alongside his legacy, in songs and movies, Buscaglione deserves mention for having encouraged musicians and singers from the newer generation (the one influenced by the earliest forms of rock and roll) to stand up against the conservative producers and discographers of the time, demanding recognition for their art and their style. In this role he proved instrumental in the rise of the “yellers” scene which from the early 60s started to revolutionize the Italian popular music panorama.