Ruggiero Eugenio di Rodolpho Colombo was born into a large Italian immigrant family in Camden, New Jersey on 14th January 1908. A musical prodigy, encouraged by his father, a theatre musician, he learned to play the violin at an early age, followed by the guitar, the clarinet and the accordion all by the age of 13, he was also a classically trained pianist. After the Columbo family moved to California’s Napa Valley, Ruggiero began to perform professionally with a number of bands as a violinist and singer. In Hollywood, he found work on film sets, providing what was known as ‘mood music,’ which was intended to aid silent movie stars get into character. It was on one of these sets, that he met Pola Negri, a Polish actress who had previously been romantically involved with Rudolph Valentino, whom Ruggiero strongly resembled. Using her influence, Negri helped him to get minor roles in several films including The Wolf Song(1929) with Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez, and The Texan (1930) starring Cooper and Fay Wray.
At the same time, Ruggiero, who by then had adopted the name ‘Russ’ Columbo, had been hired as a violinist and vocalist by the bandleader Gus Arnheim and his Cocoanut Grove Orchestra, providing the lead vocals for many of Arnheim’s hits, such as Sweet and Lovely and I Can’t Do Without You. In 1931, Columbo was offered a radio slot in New York with NBC, with fans calling him the ‘Radio Romeo,’ a recording contract as a solo artist with RCA Victor Records soon followed. Columbo’s manager Con Conrad never doubted that his protégé was destined to become a star, thanks to his remarkable talent and the fact that, as one contemporary critic remarked, ‘while he may have been born of Italian parentage, when he stepped into the spotlight on stage with his glistening black hair, chiselled facial features and athletic physique he looked to all the world like the statue of a Greek god come to life. And with his flashing black eyes and gleaming white teeth, he had a smile that could melt a sphinx.’
Above: Gus Arnheim’s Cocoanut Grove Orchestra with vocals by Russ Columbo – Sweet and Lovely (1931)
Soledad Rendón Bueno was born in Seville, the capital of Andalusia, a region on the southern coast of Spain, on 9th July 1943. The eldest of six children, her Portuguese father and Spanish mother of Triana gypsy ancestry, struggled to support their family, but her maternal aunt, in whose footsteps she longed to follow, was the well-known singer and flamenco dancer Paquita Rico. Encouraged by her parents, Soledad joined a flamenco troupe in 1951 and performed at the Seville Fair and at the city’s famous San Fernando Theatre, before touring the country.
Though she loved to dance, Soledad’s real ambition was to become an actress, and she moved to Madrid at the age of 16, where she adopted the stage name Soledad Miranda in homage to her idol Carmen Miranda. At 17, she was offered a role as a dancer in the musical comedy La Bella Mimí. Set in Madrid upon the outbreak of the First World War, thanks to the film’s elaborate period costumes and high-profile it was a success, despite Soledad later dismissing her own performance as, ‘very bad.’
Above: Soledad Miranda in La Bella Mimí (1960)
Minor roles ensued in the 1961 fantasy epic Ursus, directed by the Italian Carlo Campogalliani, and the nineteenth-century drama Canción de Cuna (1961), for which Soledad received second billing and was also required to put her considerable vocal talents to use. She would do so again when she released two EPs in 1964 and 1965, singing popular Spanish hits such as Amor Perdóname, Lo Que Hace A Las Chicas Llorar, El Color Del Amor and La Verdad.
Curtis Montgomery was born in Fort Worth, Texas on 7th February 1934. Along with his sister Josephine, he was adopted by William and Josie Ousley, taking their family name. Experiencing a comfortable and stable childhood in the affluent Texan city of Mansfield, his parents encouraged their son when he began learning to play the saxophone at the age of 12, in the hope of emulating his idols Lester Young and Louis Jordan.
As a member of his high school band, it became obvious to all who heard him, that Ousley’s talent was something special. Rejecting the numerous college scholarships he was offered, Ousley instead joined the Lionel Hampton Band. A renowned musician and bandleader, Hampton had been involved with some of the most respected names in the industry, such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker.
Ousley moved to New York, the home of the American Jazz scene in 1952. He found work as a session musician, and recorded with artists like Nat Adderley, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and The Coasters, contributing to their 1958 hit, Yakety Yak. For the next decade, having taken the moniker King Curtis, he continued to work with major stars, as well as making an impressive number of his own recordings after signing with Capitol Records; notable albums from that period were Have Tenor Sax, Will Blow(1959), The New Scene of King Curtis (1960), Trouble In Mind (1962) and Soul Serenade (1964).
Yolanda Christina Gigliotti was born into an Italian family in Cairo on 17th January 1933. As the first violinist at the Cairo Opera House, her father Pietro Gigliotti instilled her and her two brothers with a appreciation for music from an early age. After attending an Italian Catholic school in the Egyptian capital, and Yolanda dreamt of becoming a model, an ambition that would be easily realised on account of her breathtaking Mediterranean beauty.
Winning the title of Miss Ondine at a beauty pageant in 1950, Yolanda was again triumphant when she competed for the crown of Miss Egypt four years later. Her new found status brought her to the attention of the French painter and film director, Marc de Gastyne, who promised to help her pursue a film career and she moved to Paris in December 1954. Changing her name to the more French sounding Dalila, she later decided upon its variant Dalida. In Homage to the continent of her birth, it was of African-Swahili and Arabic origin, from the former, her new moniker translated as ‘gentle,’ and from the latter, ‘to tease.’
Isolated and far away from her family and friends, Dalida found solace in music and took singing lessons. Not only did she have natural talent, she also had a powerful stage presence and was hired to perform her own cabaret act at a the Olympia, a music hall in the 9th arrondissement with her signature tune being Étrangèr au Paradis, a hit from the 1953 musical Kismet.Dalida also appeared in several films including the Egyptian motion picture Sigarah wa kas (1955) and Marc de Gastyne’s Le masque de Toutankhamon (1955), but it was whilst working at the Olympia, that she met Lucien Morisse, a produce at Europe n° 1, the biggest radio station in France at that time, and the record producer Eddie Barclay. Instantly captivated by her, Morisse proposed despite already being married. Morisse later divorced and they would eventually wed on8th April 1961, although the marriage dissolved in matter of weeks following Dalida’s affair with the French actor Jean Sobieski. Continue reading →