6 April 2020

Sergio Franchi – tenor

Budding opera star became popular for singing romantic ballads

Sergio Franchi's voice first gained  recognition in South Africa
Sergio Franchi's voice first gained
recognition in South Africa
The tenor and actor Sergio Franchi was born Sergio Franci Galli on this day in 1926 in Codogno in the province of Lodi in northern Italy.

Franchi earned recognition as a performer in Britain in the 1960s and subsequently went to America where he became such a success he was once invited by John F Kennedy to sing the US national anthem at a rally.

Franchi was born to a Neapolitan father and a Ligurian mother who were living in Codogno in the Lombardy region. As a child he sang with his father who played the piano and guitar.

When he was 16, Franchi formed a band to earn extra money and went on to sing with a male group in jazz clubs.

Franchi’s father was a successful businessman but he lost all his assets during the German occupation of Italy in World War II.

After the war a family friend suggested to Franchi’s father that he should emigrate to South Africa where there were more opportunities for work. The whole family moved to Johannesburg in 1947.

Franchi worked initially for his father but also began singing in informal concerts. His voice soon attracted attention and he was offered roles in musicals.

Franchi's career took a new direction after opera   failed to provide an income to support his family
Franchi's career took a new direction after opera
 failed to provide an income to support his family 
Alessandro Rota, a successful operatic tenor who had moved to Johannesburg, helped form the National Opera Association and began producing operatic concerts. Taught by Rota, Franchi’s voice matured and his vocal range and technique developed.

He was given the leading tenor roles in Puccini’s Madam Butterfly and Verdi’s La traviata.

Franchi returned to Italy to seek more opportunities to become an opera singer. He reached the finals of a competition at La Scala in Milan and secured a role in an opera at a minor theatre. But with a wife and children to support by then, he had to look for other opportunities to earn money.

He began recording for Durium records, having hits with ‘Amore mio’ and ‘I tuoi occhi verde’, and he then made an album of Italian songs.

An English agent encouraged him to travel to London, where he made two appearances on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. This was to bring him to the attention of RCA Victor in America, who soon gave him a recording contract.

After Franchi’s first album was released in America in 1962 he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and also made his concert debut at Carnegie Hall, singing without a microphone. He was to become one of Ed Sullivan’s favourite guests.

Sergio Franchi with Ed Sullivan (left), on whose show he made regular guest appearances
Sergio Franchi with Ed Sullivan (left), on whose show he
made regular guest appearances
In 1963 Franchi was asked to sing the national anthem by President Kennedy at a rally and he bought a record to help him learn the words. This turned out to be a good move because he was able to reassure the President before the performance when he asked if Franchi knew all the words to the anthem. He later sang for Ladybird Johnson and President Ronald Reagan.

Franchi became a US citizen in 1972 and continued to enjoy a glittering career in America.

The last of Franchi’s 130 television appearances was in July 1989 and his last concert was later that month. While rehearsing for his next concert in August, Franchi collapsed and was taken to hospital. Tests revealed a brain tumour and despite treatment he died in May 1990, less than a month after his 64th birthday.

Franchi had supported the arts and many charities throughout his career and for his support for Italian children’s charities he was posthumously awarded the title of Cavaliere in the Order of Merit (stella al merito del lavoro) by the Italian government in 2001.

The church of Santi Teodoro e Paradiso in Codogno
The church of Santi Teodoro
e Paradiso in Codogno
Travel tip:

Codogno, where Sergio Franchi was born, is a small city with a population of under 16,000 in Lombardy in the province of Lodi, to the south east of Milan. Codogno hit the headlines worldwide because of the Covid 19 pandemic. It was there that a 38-year-old Italian went to a clinic on 16 February 2020 reporting respiratory problems and it is thought the virus then spread from Codogno throughout Italy and the rest of Europe. The city was quarantined on 22 February 2020.

Il Torrazzo in Cremona is Italy's tallest bell tower at 112 metres
Il Torrazzo in Cremona is Italy's tallest
bell tower at 112 metres
Travel tip:

Cremona, to the south east of Codogno, was often thought to be Sergio Franchi’s home town, but he made it clear in interviews that he was born in Codogno but spent a lot of time in Cremona while he was growing up. Cremona is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112 metres in height. As well as being well known for producing the world’s best violins, Cremona is also famous for making confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in producing the city’s renowned torrone (nougat). The concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was first created in the city to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when Cremona was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

Also on this day:

1483: The birth of Renaissance genius Raphael

1901: The birth of social activist Pier Giorgio Frassati

1918: The birth of war hero Alberto Marvelli

1957: The birth of race-walking twins Maurizio and Giorgio Damilano

(Picture credit: church in Codogno by Ago56)


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