Obituary: Domenico Modugno
DOMENICO MODUGNO was known all over the world as 'Mister Volare'. The nickname came from the refrain 'Volare, oh, oh-oh' of his 1958 hit song 'Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu'. Modugno explained that he wrote the song while thinking of a painting by Chagall, of a man, with half of his face painted blue, looking out of a window. With 'Volare' - which has become, along with O sole mio, the most famous of all Italian songs - Modugno won his first Grammy Award and sold 30 million records.
With over 200 recordings to his name and 60 million records sold, Modugno was the most successful Italian performing artist in history and as a cantautore ('singer and author') he was considered the father of modern Italian songwriting. In Italy, throughout his long career, Modugno was greatly loved because he always remained himself and never put on airs.
Modugno was much more than just a singer. He also appeared in 17 films, 14 plays and musicals, won the Italian Song Festival of Sanremo four times, three Grammy awards and numerous other prizes.
In the early Fifties, Modugno started his career in show business as a movie actor, playing minor roles in a series of films, and became known at the same time as a songwriter. In 1955, he wrote two hit songs: 'Vecchio Frao', the drama of a man who no longer has the strength to live and 'Lu Pisci Spada', a song about blood, love and death in Sicilian dialect. In 1957, he wrote three other classics: 'Resta cu'mme', 'Lazarella' and 'Strada anfosa'.
In 1958, he achieved his greatest success when, with Franco Migliacci, he wrote the joyous 'Nel blu dipinto di blu', known all around the world as 'Volare'. With this song he won the Italian Song Festival in Sanremo and, within a matter of weeks, achieved worldwide fame and the name 'Mister Volare'. Cover versions of the song have been recorded by performers ranging from Dean Martin to Luciano Pavarotti. The following year, Modugno triumphed again at Sanremo with 'Piove' (with the refrain 'Ciao Ciao, Bambina'), a song about the end of a love that is accepted cheerfully instead of being turned into the usual tearful melodrama. It was another world-wide hit.
In the Sixties, Modugno starred in musical comedies and wrote 'Tu si 'na cosa grande' and 'Dio come ti amo' with which he won another song festival. In the Seventies, he wrote two more hits: 'La Lontananza' and 'Piange Il Telefono'. He achieved his greatest success as an actor as Mackie in Brecht's Threepenny Opera (1973), directed by Giorgio Strehler.
In 1984, while recording a television programme, Modugno suffered a thrombosis attack that left him paralysed and forced him to use a wheelchair. After a long convalescence, he dedicated himself to politics and was elected MP for the Radical Party in 1987. He was a member of an investigating commission that raised a huge scandal in Italy by denouncing the insane asylum in Agrigento, in Sicily, as little more than a concentration camp. Modugno took up singing again, to give a concert for the patients and their relatives.
In 1991, he had suffered a first heart attack while on an aeroplane, returning from New York, where he had given a concert, in his wheelchair, at Carnegie Hall.
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