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.

27 March 2019

Joe Sentieri - singer and actor

Joe Sentieri began his career on ocean liners in the 1950s, soon becoming popular with holiday-makers
Joe Sentieri began his career on ocean liners in the 1950s,
soon becoming popular with holiday-makers

Career remembered for international hit song


The singer, songwriter and actor Joe Sentieri, who released seven albums and around 100 singles over the course of a career spanning more than a quarter of a century, died on this day in 2007 in the Adriatic coastal city of Pescara.

Although he enjoyed considerable success in his own right, he tends to be remembered most for his association with an Italian song that became an international hit after it was translated into English.

Sentieri’s 1961 song Uno dei tanti - One of the Many - was given English lyrics by the American producing partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and repackaged as I (Who Have Nothing).

Sentieri enjoyed a number of hits in Italy but is best known for a song that brought success for others
Sentieri enjoyed a number of hits in Italy but is best
known for a song that brought success for others
A hit first for the American soul and R&B star Ben E King, it was covered with considerable success by the British artists Tom Jones and later Shirley Bassey. The Jones version reached No 14 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while Bassey’s climbed to No 6 in the UK singles chart in 1963 and became a staple of her concert repertoire.

Countless other cover versions were released over time, by performers as diverse as Petula Clark and Joe Cocker, Katherine Jenkins and Gladys Knight.  The song has also featured in the hit US television series, The Sopranos.

Sentieri was born Rino Luigi Sentieri in Genoa in March 1925. He grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in the port area and was sent out to work at a young age, going into the mountains above the city where there were opencast coal mines, loading bags of coal on to a truck to be sold by his father.

His musical talent emerged after he was given a mandolin as a present and taught himself to play. He learned the accordion, too, and helped supplement the family income by busking. He also developed a good singing voice, and in the early 1950s began to find work on the cruise ships and transatlantic liners that regularly sailed from Genoa to the Americas.

Sentieri with Wilma De Angelis at the 1960 Festival di San Remo
Sentieri with Wilma De Angelis at the 1960
Festival di San Remo
Modelling himself on Elvis Presley with a touch of Little Richard thrown in, he became a very popular performer, especially in South America and in New York, where he would stay for long periods. He ended each performance with a trademark jump, apparently the legacy of a show he gave during a particularly rough voyage, when right at the end of his closing number the ship rolled suddenly and he instinctively jumped to stop himself falling.

Back in Italy he made his debut on dry land in 1956 as a singer of the orchestra of Corrado Bezzi, with whom he also recorded some 78rpm records for the Italian RCA label, under the name of Rino Sentieri.

His career accelerated after he took part in the Festival of Musichiere at the Arena di Verona in 1959, with a song written by Domenico Modugno, who also provided him with the winning entry - Piove (ciao ciao bambina) - at the prestigious Canzonissima song contest of the same year, by which time he had decided on Joe as a stage name.

As well as making numerous records, Sentieri was also chosen to sing the theme song for the 1960 Olympic Games of Rome, entitled Welcome To Rome, and gained a number of parts in movies, including a couple for the director Damiano Damiani, one of which - La moglie più bella (The Most Beautiful Wife) - featured the screen debut at 14 of the future star Ornella Muti.

He decided to end his career in the 1980s so that he could devote more time to his love of painting, a hobby he had maintained since childhood. He and his partner, Dora, moved to Pescara, where he would exhibit from time to time. He accepted some invitations to sing or appear on television and actually released a collection of Genovese songs in 1996, although he preferred a quiet life.

He ended his days in considerably reduced circumstances compared with peak of his career, mainly as a result of bad luck with his investments. He spent 40 million lire on some land at Rapallo which was then compulsorily purchased by the government for 16 million, saw his record shop go bust and had his fingers burnt on another property investment, in a country club outside Genoa.

As a result, he was left to live on little more than a €700-a-month state pension, before premier Silvio Berlusconi decided he should benefit to the tune of an extra €1,000 per month as a result of the Becchalli Law, which allows governments to provide special help to “illustrious citizens” who have fallen on hard times.

Sentieri died in a clinic in Pescara a few weeks after suffering a stroke, at the age of 82.

Gabriele D'Annunzio's childhood home in Pescara contains a museum dedicated to his life
Gabriele D'Annunzio's childhood home in
Pescara contains a museum dedicated to his life 
Travel tip:

Pescara, a city of almost 120,000 people on the Adriatic in the Abruzzo region, is known for its 10 miles of clean, sandy beaches, yet is only 50km (31 miles) from the Gran Sasso mountain range, the snow-capped peaks of which are visible even from the coast on a clear winter’s day. The city is the birthplace of the poet, patriot and military leader, Gabriele D’Annunzio. His childhood home, the Casa Natale di Gabriele D’Annunzio, which can be found in the historic centre of the city on the south side of the Fiume Pescara, which bisects the city, houses a museum about his life and works. The Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo has exhibitions on regional industries like ceramics and olive oil. Pieces by Miró and Picasso are on view at the Vittoria Colonna Museum of Modern Art.

The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa is always a hub of lively activity
The Piazza de Ferrari in the centre of Genoa is
always a hub of lively activity
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa, known in Italy as Genova, is the capital of the Liguria region. It has a rich history as a powerful trading centre with considerable wealth built on its shipyards and steelworks, but also boasts many fine buildings, many of which have been restored to their original splendour.  The Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

More reading:

Patty Pravo - the '60s star still performing today

Italy's biggest-selling recording artist of all time

How Domenico Modugno wrote the iconic Italian ballad Volare

Also on this day:

1799: The birth of Alessandro La Marmora, founder of Italy's Bersaglieri corps

1968: The birth of popular politician Luca Zaia

1969: The birth of Gianluigi Lentini, once the world's most expensive footballer


(Picture credit: D'Annunzio house by Rae Bo; Fountain by Roberta de roberto; via Wikimedia Commons) 

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