Jimmy Roselli is from Hoboken, so is Frank Sinatra.
There are plenty of singers from the same town. Look at New York—right across the river—where one doesn’t necessary have to live under the shadow of another.
But Hoboken is Hoboken, and Sinatra is Sinatra. Jimmy Roselli spent his entire life dealing with those inevitable parallels.
“It’s an unfair comparison,” says filmmaker Lazarus Melan, “because one has to understand that there wasn’t a Frank Sinatra before Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra created the Crooner Persona and he is still considered the world’s Greatest Entertainer, he is larger than life.” He adds, “I also think it’s unfair because they had such very different voices and styles of singing.
Born in Hoboken in 1925—a decade after Sinatra—Roselli is regarded as one of the most significant Italian-American pop singers of his time. Saddled with the nickname of “the other Sinatra,” Roselli was typically mentioned in the same breath as Frank, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Vic Damone and Jerry Vale.
While he was an American, Roselli had a passion for Italian songs—in Italian.
“Jimmy was raised by his Grandfather in Hoboken, who only spoke Italian,” says Melan. “Jimmy was very proud of his Italian heritage and wanted to give Italians living in America the same music they could listen to in Italy.”
Some even considered Roselli to be a better singer than Sinatra.
“I feel their relationship was that of an older and younger brother who were resentful of each other,” says Melan. “Although they feuded most of their life, I feel deep down they respected each other’s talents, but didn’t want to admit it.”
The general consensus is that Roselli’s commercial success was stifled by his unwillingness to get too cozy with La Cosa Nostra, as the Mafia controlled much the entertainment venues and revenue streams at that time.
“Jimmy was the ‘Raging Bull of Singers’ by defying the mob,” says Melan. “The most surprising thing that I learned was how loyal his fans are. To this day I hear how his music reminds them of the good ol’ days when families got together on Sunday, listening to his music while the Grandmothers were making Sauce.”
Melan became a fan at the age of 19, after seeing Roselli at Caesar’s Palace. “Although he struggled most of his career, he had a happy ending performing at sold out shows in Atlantic City.”
This Columbus Day Weekend, Melan will discuss Roselli’s life and share rare photos and videos with the Hoboken Historical Museum, in a program made possible by a grant from The New Jersey State Historical Commission, a Division of the Department of State, and administered by the Hudson County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs, Thomas A. DeGise, Hudson County County Executive and Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The event is presented by Hoboken Cultural Affairs.
“Jimmy should be remembered as a man who was loyal to the City of Hoboken and a singer who really did it his way,” says Melan. “Jimmy overcame major struggles and despite the mistakes he made, he endured.”