45: “Madona/Flamenco” b/w “Flamenco Bleu/Mon Coeur Va” by Dalida. Barclay 70034. Recorded in Paris, France in 1956.

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Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Dalida was born in Cairo to Italian parents in 1933. “Madona,” which tells the tale of a woman praying to the Virgin Mary to guide her seafaring man home through calm waters, was her first single and did fairly well in France, where she had moved to pursue an acting career. It can be heard here, and a translation of the lyrics can be found here. A song called “Bambino,” released later in 1956, sold 300,000 copies and more fully established a career as successful as the singer’s life was fascinatingly tragic. Dalida could sing in ten different languages, and would be a consistent presence on the French, European, and Japanese pop charts for over 30 years, until her death by suicide in 1987. Dalida received over 45 gold records over the course of her career and, between 1956 and 2006, an astonishing 130 million of her records have been sold. But such achievement  could not soothe the pain from a string of failed relationships, infertility, and the loss of friends and lovers to their own suicides.

She is virtually unknown here in the states. Dalida did perform at Carnegie Hall in the early 1960’s, and recorded a few songs in English, but anglophone success eluded her. Maybe it wasn’t a priority; she was already touring Europe, Japan and the Middle East, so why stretch herself even thinner? Whatever the reason for her lack of renown here, this is exactly why I love being able to look through the collections at Rodgers & Hammerstein. A singer who looks like Sophia Loren, sounds like Julie London, has the cosmopolitan appeal of Eartha Kitt and a tragic life to rival Edith Piaf’s should be better known, and I may never have heard of her had I not run across this 45 sleeve, inexplicably mixed in with Spanish military marches and Captain and Tennille tunes.

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