At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

4 April 2017

Francesco De Gregori - singer-songwriter

Performer inspired by songs of hero Bob Dylan

Francesco de Gregori on stage in 2008
Francesco de Gregori on stage in 2008
The singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori - popularly known as "Il Principe dei cantautori" (the prince of the singer-songwriters) – was born on this day in 1951.

Born in Rome, De Gregori has released around 40 albums in a career spanning 45 years, selling more than five million records.

Famous for the elegant and often poetic nature of his lyrics, De Gregori was once described by Bob Dylan as an “Italian folk hero”.

De Gregori acknowledges Dylan as one if his biggest inspirations and influences, along with Leonard Cohen and the Italian singer Fabrizio de André.  Covers of Dylan songs have regularly featured in his stage performances. He made an album in 2015 entitled Love and Theft: De Gregori Sings Bob Dylan.

Born into a middle class family – his father was a librarian, his mother a teacher - De Gregori spent his youth living in Rome or on the Adriatic coast at Pescara. He began to develop his musical career at the Folkstudio in Rome’s Trastevere district, where Dylan had performed in 1962.

De Gregori (left) and Lucio Dalla in Genoa in 2010
De Gregori (left) and Lucio Dalla in Genoa in 2010
He became friends with fellow singer-songwriters Antonello Venditti, Mimmo Locasciulli and Giorgio Lo Cascio. It was alongside Venditti that he made his professional debut and the two collaborated on an album, Theorius Campus, in 1972. Venditti had more songs and was considered to have a better voice and when their record label indicated that they were more interested in Venditti, the partnership broke up.

De Gregori's 1973 solo debut album, Alice Non Lo Sa, did not impress the critics, who were not enthused either by his 1974 follow-up. But with his 1975 album, Rimmel, he began to enjoy some success. Reviewers liked his reflective and intelligent lyrics – less obscure than some of his earlier songs – and the album benefitted from some input from Lucio Dalla, with whom he struck a lasting friendship.

In 1976 he had another success with Bufalo Bill but an incident in Milan during a tour the following year led to him abruptly quitting the music business.

Bob Dylan in 2010
Bob Dylan in 2010
De Gregori had been a member of the Italian Communist Party and his songs often had a political theme, as did those of many Italian performers at that time, but while he was on stage at the PalaLido arena in Milan he was targeted by a group of left-wing extremists who began a protest during the show, accusing him of using left-wing messages merely to sell his records.  Fearing physical attack, he left the stage and the concert was abandoned, after which he announced that his career was over.

For the next few months he worked as a clerk in a book and music shop but was persuaded to resume his career the following year. A new album, De Gregori, included a song, "Generale," that would become one of his signature tracks. Soon afterwards, he joined Dalla on a successful tour entitled Banana Republic.  The two would later host a music show on the Rai television network, entitled Due.

Ironically, the title track of his next album, Viva l’Italia, was adopted as an anthem by the Italian Socialist Party.  In 1982 he recorded Titanic, the album many critics consider his tour de force, and since then, after a period working as a journalist for the newspaper L’Unità, De Gregori has recorded albums at a rate of one every year. His latest, Sotto il Vulcano, was released in February this year.

Married to Alessandra, whom he met at high school, De Gregori has two sons, Marco and Federico.  His nickname – Il Principe – was given to him by a journalist and apparently related to his sometimes haughty manner when dealing with the press.

Via Garibaldi in Trastevere
Via Garibaldi in Trastevere
Travel tip:

The Folkstudio club opened in 1961 in a cellar in Via Garibaldi in the Trastevere area of Rome. Its founder was an American painter and musician, Harold Bradley Jr, who invited a then little known Bob Dylan to play there soon after it opened. The club, which at first promoted jazz and blues musicians, eventually hosted performers of many different styles and helped launch the careers of many Italian artists. Bradley moved back to the United States in 1967 but music lover Giancarlo Cesaroni took over. The club’s premises moved subsequently to the library L'Uscita, in Via dei Banchi Vecchi, then to Via Sacchi and later Via Frangipane, near the Colosseum.  A plaque on the wall in Via Garibaldi marks its original home.

Prati is an affluent Roman neighbourhood
Prati is an affluent Roman neighbourhood
Travel tip:

De Gregori was raised in the Prati district of Rome, close to the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica, which is now an affluent residential neighbourhood which is popular with tourists for offering a relatively quiet place to stay that still provides easy access to the city’s historical centre. It has many authentic Roman trattorie as well as a host of bars and pubs.

More reading:

The enduring talents of Antonello Venditti

How pop singer Lucio Dalla found inspiration in opera great Enrico Caruso

The story of Adelmo Fornaciari - otherwise known as Zucchero

Also on this day:

1752: The birth of composer Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli

(Picture credits: De Gregori and Dalla by Gianky; Bob Dylan by Alberto Cabello; Via Garibaldi by Mark Ahsmann; Prati street by Lalupa; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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