By: Cindy Annis – Dec. 2017
Connie Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria on December 12, 1938. She grew up in Newark, New Jersey with her mother Ida and father, George. Since her father didn’t want children, he didn’t start to build a relationship with his daughter until she turned three.
Concetta wanted to learn how to play the accordion, so her father worked hard to raise money for her music lessons. Her father encouraged his young daughter to play at talent contests, pageants, and to play at family gatherings to gain experience.
In 1949, Concetta’s father took her to Manhattan to audition for the ‘Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Kids Only Christmas Special’. On the show, she sang ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’. After her first show, Godfrey shortened her name to Connie Francis.
Life wasn’t fun for the Italian singer. Her father didn’t let her have friends, or even go to her Belleville High School prom in 1955. Her father also had a say in what songs she would sing, what movies she could be in, and made sure that his daughter was properly dressed at all times.
When Francis turned 14, she got a job singing on demonstration records. The records would go to more successful singers, but when she recorded ‘Freddie’, MGM co executive Harry A. Myerson heard the song and thought it would be a great gift for his son Freddie. As a result, MGM gave her a ten-single contract. None of the songs did anything on the Billboard charts.
Not having a knack for writing songs, Francis met up with other song writers in the Brill Building in Manhattan. There, she met and fell in love with Bobby Darin. After being chased away by Francis’ father with a gun, Darin broke up with her.
After the incident, her father suggested that she forget about rock ‘n’ roll and sing a 1923 song called ‘Who’s Sorry Now’. Originally, the song was not successful on the charts, when it was first heard on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, on January 1, 1958. In April, the song reached #1 on the U.K. charts, #4 on the U.S. charts.
To keep her music career on the right path, Francis met with writers Howie Greenfield and Neil Sedaka. They had a silly love song that Francis loved from the first time she heard it. ‘Stupid Cupid’ went to #14 in August 1958.
In 1959, Francis recorded an Italian album at the Abbey Rd. recording studio in London. From there, she recorded more albums in Italian, German, Irish and Hebrew. In 1961, she started to record her own hit songs in up to fifteen different languages. Like Abba, she learned the songs phonetically and had a translator in the studio to make sure that she translated the lyrics correctly and that the pronunciation of the words were as correct as possible.
In 1973 after two failed marriages, she married restaurant and travel agency owner, Joseph Garzilla. Together they adopted a baby boy named Joey.
On November 8, 1974 after performing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York, Francis was raped and almost killed in her motel room at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson’s Lodge. A year later, her lawyer found out that the lock on the room where Francis was assaulted was not working. As a result, she sued the motel for $2.5 million. This changed security for both hotels and motels.
The incident ended her marriage and sent Francis into a deep depression. She would take 50 Darvon pills a day. Since patients can build a tolerance to the pill, Francis’s body could handle the high dose. Her depression got worse when her brother was murdered in 1981. Her doctors finally put her on the right medication for her depression. Although she needs high doses of Lithium, she goes on and off the medication so that she can perform.
Today Connie Francis remains a fighter. She has dedicated her life to mental health advocacy through her S.T.A.R. campaign (stress trauma awareness and recovery). She also helps American Veterans in her charity “Haven From The Storm’.
Tune in to Cindy’s Vinyl Vault on 980 WCAP Sunday nights at 10, Monday nights at 11, and Wednesday nights at 10. Get your fix of the best music from the 50s 60s and 70s and even make a request at 978-454-4980. Remember it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds.