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Sergio Franchi

Sergio Franchi was a tenor who rose to fame in the 1960s, singing a repertory of mostly popular and Italian love songs as well as light classics. Besides maintaining a busy concert schedule, he made numerous recordings, appeared on many television shows, and even enjoyed a brief career in the movies. Franchi was born in Cremona, Italy, on April 6, 1926. Although he showed considerable vocal talent in his childhood and adolescence, he followed his father's wishes that he study electrical engineering. While working on his degree, he took private instruction in music, and after graduation seriously began focusing on a career as a singer. He accompanied his family when they relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1952, and there he took a part-time job as a draftsman; meanwhile he worked vigorously at developing his vocal skills. By the mid-'50s, he became recognized as one of the most promising young singers in South Africa, and he returned to Italy for further study, taking vocal instruction from Rossi Massetti. He soon launched his career in Europe, and in 1962 began a highly successful tour of the United States, singing a mixture of Italian and popular songs. His rise was meteoric, equaled by few singers before or since: Franchi, a virtual unknown when he set foot on American soil, became an overnight sensation who was immediately booked for an appearance on the most popular television variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as on the equally popular comedy program, The Red Skelton Show. In 1963, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice and gave numerous sold-out concerts. Among his first recordings was the 1963 RCA LP The Dream Duet, a best-selling album he made with soprano Anna Moffo. He also appeared on another recording with her of Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus, where he displayed a somewhat greater range and the necessary operatic technique for singing the role of Alfred. Some critics were not pleased with his performance, however, and Franchi thereafter largely focused on the more popular side of his repertory. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Franchi made numerous concert tours and recordings, as well as many lucrative night club appearances, such as those at the Flamingo Room in Las Vegas (1969 - 1971). He kept himself in the national public eye with his regular television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Red Skelton Show, and Hollywood Palace. Franchi expanded his career into films when he appeared in the 1969 Stanley Kramer comedy The Secret of Santa Vittoria, which starred Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani (Franchi's sister, Dana Valery (Catalano), had a thriving career in show business in the 1960s and '70s herself, becoming a regular performer on many television shows). Franchi became an American citizen in 1972 and became closely identified with several charities in the United States, including Boys Town, from whom he received the Michelangelo Award for his vigorous philanthropic and social support. Although his popularity faded somewhat in the latter 1970s and 1980s, Franchi remained active, giving frequent concerts and making many recordings. He died of brain cancer on May 1, 1990. Since his death many of his recordings have been reissued. His widow Eva helped found the Sergio Franchi Music Scholarship Foundation, which provides financial support to student vocalists.
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