When Paul Marinaro contacted ItalianSide.com for information about his Italian ancestors, we clicked on the link in his email.
To our delight, it was the website of a talented, Chicago-based vocalist with a smooth baritone voice.
We liked what we heard and wanted to share his story with our readers.
Read our exclusive interview with Paul where he discusses not only his musical journey, but also the journeys his grandfathers made from Italy to America.
Ciao Paul! Tell us about yourself and your music
I was born in Buffalo, New York and am the youngest of 10 children. It was a very musical home and I was singing to the radio by the time I was four. Without even really knowing it, I was learning countless songs that I would hear my father singing around the house, and without realizing it, this was connecting me to the style and music of his generation…often called The Great American Songbook.
Music has always been a part of my life, including many years of piano lessons starting when I was 5.
|I had always heard stories about my father’s dreams of being a professional singer, but since that all happened before I was born, I didn’t know too much about it.
He had given up pursuing his musical aspirations in order to properly provide for his growing family…
But I don’t think the desire ever left him. He had to walk away from his musical passion; as fate would have it, his youngest child would pick up where he left off many years later!
When I was about 5 years old, I found a very old dusty box in the attic filled with homemade acetates (78rpm recording discs). I soon discovered that they were homemade recordings of my father when he was a teenager in the 1940s, singing unaccompanied the songs of the era. He had wanted to be a singer so badly that he saved his small earnings to buy his own record cutting machine, a very extravagant expense for a teenager in the 1940s. Also on these recordings were the voices of my grandparents and great-grandmother speaking in Italian (in a thick San Felese dialect)…a very rare and unique glimpse into my ancestors that I never knew.
I was mesmerized that my father’s young voice was coming from these recordings. It began my fascination with these discs and with these songs that continues to this day. Without fully realizing it at the time, it was then that I began my own journey as a singer and would lead me on a path to continue and fulfill my father’s long-ago dream.
I’ve been a professional singer based out of Chicago for about 12 years now. I am mostly a jazz-influenced singer.
My career has just had a significant boost with the release of my debut album “Without a Song”, which was a tribute to my father, Joseph (now 86 years old), and a validation of his dreams.
I even managed to salvage some of the audio from those very old acetates and use them on the album. They were my first musical inspirations and it made sense that they would now come full circle.
Is there an “Italian Side” in your life?
Both of my grandfathers settled in Buffalo, New York and started families here, working hard to assimilate into the culture but without losing their own. These cultural traditions were thankfully passed on to us throughout the generations.
I find that today I still cling to the traditions and sense of community and family that my grandfathers brought with them and instilled in us.
Since all of my grandparents are Italian and most of their children married into Italian families, we are richly Italian-Americans and I find that I instantly connect to people who come from a similar background.
Have Italian roots influenced your life and/or music?
My earliest memories as a child are of my family singing around our kitchen table…food and song. More than anything else, music had the power to elicit strong emotions…from complete joy, to a sense of extreme melancholy…a longing that is best and only expressed through song.
Italians are passionate about culture, with outstanding examples of cuisine, art, architecture, literature, and music. The language itself is highly musical. Music is part of the soul of an Italian, particularly with singing. There is a joy and beauty that connects us to something bigger, something intangible but instantly recognizable and fully realized.
|I grew up surrounded by examples of this musical expression, this pure truthfulness, and have tried to live a life in which I constantly aim to find examples of that all around me. Of my own artistry as singer, it’s been said that I am very truthful, that there is an instant believability. I have always considered that the greatest compliment, as I can only sing that which is truthful to me at some level. I cannot perform just for the sake of mass popularity as so many do. I’d rather do something else. I do not possess the ability to be effective as a singer if I’m not being emotionally moved in some way…or truthful.|
I know that my ancestors faced extreme hardships in their journey, working very hard to ensure that their children and their descendants would have more than they did. I like to think that they did so with a song in their hearts. From what I do know of them, I’m sure this was true.
What do you know about your Italian roots?
I am absolutely fascinated about my Italian roots and look forward to finding out as much as I can.
Unfortunately, I don’t know as much about my Italian roots as I would like to. Being the youngest of a large family, and because there is a rather large age gap between my generation and my grandfathers’, much of the information has been hard to come by. I also think that in an attempt to assimilate into America quickly, my ancestors, like many Italians then, didn’t pass down as much of the culture and traditions. For instance, within one generation, the Italian language was lost.
My Marinaro ancestry has been the most difficult to trace. I have been working very hard for the last 2 years doing research and sifting through old birth records, censuses, death certificates, and city directories and have been able to trace most of their existence here in the USA. So far though, their records in Italy have been more challenging to find. However, I have just had some wonderful success in locating some of the records from San Fele, helping to piece together more of the puzzle. ItalianSide has been an excellent resource as well and is at the top of my list for thanks.
I have found out that my grandfather, Donato Marinaro, left San Fele when he was just 10 years old in 1903. His parents and sisters didn’t arrive until a year later.
|From my research, I discovered that more San Felesi immigrated to the Buffalo, New York area than anywhere else, and there has always been a strong community here.
Unfortunately, Donato died 10 years before I was born, but from what his children tell me, he didn’t often talk about his journey with them. They sensed that it might have been too painful for him. Though he loved America and the opportunities it afforded him, he didn’t like the popular expression “God Bless America” and wouldn’t say the phrase. He believed that God should bless every country and all people.
From my research, when he and his family settled in Buffalo, I’ve been able to trace the neighborhoods they lived in and the jobs they had. It is humbling to realize the conditions that they lived in as Italian immigrants and the discrimination that they faced. Yet, I’m filled with pride to see their stories unfold, how they held onto their families, their traditions, their beliefs, and worked hard to make better lives for themselves. In just one generation, they managed to create a life for their children that was far different from their own, in spite of all of the hardships they faced.
My grandfather, Donato Marinaro worked his way up from the Italian slums in Buffalo, NY by working various jobs – farm labor, elevator operator, mattress maker, upholsterer – before eventually working on the assembly line at the Ford Automotive Plant.
| My maternal grandfather, Antonio Tortora, arriving later in 1921 from Poggiomarino, Napoli under better conditions, faced a bit less of the discrimination and difficult living situations, but also worked his way up as a foreman at Bethlehem Steel Mill, always ensuring a better life for his children.
Antonio died a few months before I was born.
| Due to the success of that CD, a deluxe edition is being prepared for re-issue on vinyl! – (I’m not sure about Italy, but vinyl is having a large resurgence in popularity in the US). It’s going to be a beautiful double LP edition.
Since there has been so much press and attention given to that album, which was in tribute to my father, I just released a single called “A Song For You” in tribute to my mother. I thought that after discussing my father and his lost dreams, I needed to shine the light on the beautiful woman in the shadows who has stood by, supported and allowed the dreamers in my family to shine.
The single was released on November 12, 2014 as a digital download on Itunes and CDBaby.com, and I’m very excited with the amount of interest it’s gained in just a short time from people around the world.
I’ve also just gone back into the studio to start work on another full length CD that will be released in mid 2015.
Another project that I will be hopefully starting soon is an album of songs by one of my favorite of the American composers, the son of Italian immigrants, Harry Warren (Salvatore Antonio Guaragna).
He was such a wonderfully prolific writer.
In addition to that, I’m looking to tour much more and hopefully keep finding new audiences, particularly in Europe.
I would love to hear from new fans through my website www.PaulMarinaro.com and at www.facebook.com/withoutasong.
Did you ever think about visiting your ancestors’ town?
|One of my greatest wishes is to have the opportunity to visit Italy and my ancestors’ towns…San Fele, Poggiomarino, and Palermo …and many others!
I am beginning to make plans to make this happen.
I would love to find out if I could find distant relatives.
It was my grandfather Anthony’s dream to someday return to Napoli but he died before he had the chance to do so. I have never been to Italy and though I’ve always wanted to, the urge to do so is becoming much stronger as if I am being pulled there. I feel as if I’m destined to make this happen…and soon!
Of course, my biggest dream is to be able to perform there as well. I’m going to do my best to make that happen. I sincerely hope Italy will welcome me and my music.