Lipstick On Your Collar: Connie Francis

I often listen to 181FM Classic Hits (from Waynesville NC) on TuneIn Radio (streaming via Droid in the car and iPad at home.) They play a nice and not-often-repeated slate of songs from the 50s and 60s, but one I’ve heard there several times lately is a plaintive melody and lyrics in counterpart to Oh My Papa is one I do not remember from when it was current in 1959 (when I was 11.) It is a song called “Mama” by Connie Francis. Her fluent Italian in that song made me consider the possibility that maybe her birth name was NOT Connie Francis.

I hate to admit this but I pulled over (on a Floyd County backroad in the middle of the boonies) and checked DuckDuckGo to find her real name, and followed up when I got home. Here are some excerpts from the extensive Wikipedia entry about her. Apparently, she is still with us.  And I, frankly, am glad for music’s sake that she did not go to medical school. But I am sorry she dropped the accordion.

And you can listen to a number of her tunes at Grooveshark should you care to.

  • Connie Francis (born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero; December 12, 1938
  • Following her appearance on the Arthur Godfrey show (singing “Daddy’s Little Girl”), Connie was advised to change her name from Franconero to something more easily pronounceable and to drop the accordion that was part of her act.
  • Francis’ first single, “Freddy,” (1955) and her next nine singles were commercial failures.
  • When her father learned that Bobby Darin had suggested the two lovers elope after one of her shows, he ran Darin out of the building at gunpoint.
  • After the failure of her first nine demos, MGM was about to drop her. She considered a career in medicine and was about to accept a four-year scholarship offered at New York University
  • Although Connie Francis had had a string of hits by mid-1959, the official turning point of her career was when she made an appearance on The Perry Como Show. She sang the song “Mama”, in both Italian and English.
  • In 1960, Francis became the first female singer to have two consecutive No. 1 singles, both on the top for two weeks: “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own.”
  • Francis was one of the first American artists to regularly record in other languages. As a result, she enjoyed her greatest successes outside of the United States. During the 1960s, her songs not only topped the charts in numerous countries around the world, but she was also voted the #1 singer in over ten countries. In 1960, she was named the most popular artist in Europe, the first time a non-European received this honor.
  • Francis took a hiatus in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result of cosmetic surgery. The result made it impossible for her to perform in air-conditioned venues
  • While appearing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York, on November 8, 1974, Francis was raped at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson’s Lodge.
  • In 1977, Francis underwent nasal surgery and completely lost her voice.
  • Francis returned to the stage in 1982, even appearing in the town where she had been raped. However, her success was short-lived as she was diagnosed with mental illness and depression and she was committed to a total of seventeen hospitals.
  • In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan appointed her as head of his task force on violent crime.
  • Francis has been married four times.
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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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