After stepping out from the shadow of Rita Pavone, Italian singer Anna Maria Izzo had two shots at pop stardom in her own right. As part of group La Cricca and then as a soloist, her distinctive vocals helped her to stand out from the crowd. Her brand of uptempo yé-yé and downbeat ballads has brought her a lasting fan base that belies her modest chart success in the 1960s.
Anna Maria Izzo was born on 15 January 1947 in the Italian capital of Rome.
She began singing professionally as a background vocalist for Rita Pavone, as one of the red-headed star’s Collettoni.
She went on to sign to the ARC label in 1964. Singer and guitarist Enrico Ciacci – the brother of star Little Tony – was putting together a group and needed a female vocalist. Anna Maria stepped in to provide the female lead vocals for the new six-some, known as La Cricca. (The remaining four members comprised Fabrizio Brunetti and Massimo Camilotti on vocals and sisters Laura and Marisa Fionda on vocals and guitar.)
The group was launched at the 1964 Cantagiro, an annual song contest that included a section especially for groups. La Cricca’s Il surf delle mattonelle, an Italian take on a yé-yé sound, became an immediate hit, making the top 40.
The group were later invited to perform the song in the film Questo pazzo, pazzo mondo della canzone, which hit cinemas in 1965.
In the meantime, in late 1964, the group’s second 45, Amico va, hit the shops. Less successful than its predecessor, the song featured Enrico Ciacci on lead vocals. (The B-side was an energetic take on Betty Everett’s It’s in his kiss, retitled Ora siamo grandi.)
Keen to kick start her solo career, Anna Maria began laying on the charm at ARC. The Supremes were faring well in the charts in Europe, notably in Britain, and the decision was taken to cover their Where did our love go for Italian consumption.
With new lyrics by Sergio Bardotti, the Motown song became Piano – and Anna Maria was invited to cut the record. It became the singer’s debut solo 45. TV appearances helped to promote the release, and the B-side, Come tutti gli altri, was included in the soundtrack to the film Extracongiuale. Nevertheless, the record-buying public resolutely ignored the disc.
Its lack of success saw Anna Maria rejoin La Cricca. However, after a successful return to the Cantagiro contest in 1965 with Balliamo senza scarpe, internal fighting led the group to call it a day.
Its individual members went their separate ways. Both Anna Maria Izzo and Enrico Ciacci remained with ARC – the former returned to her solo career, while the latter set about forming a new group, imaginatively titled La Nuova Cricca, with Mary di Pietro and Ivan Basilio. (The group would enjoy some popularity, until a car crash cost Mary her life.)
Much as Bach’s Minuet in G Major had provided the inspiration in the US for The Toys’ A lover’s concerto, so Albinani’s Adagio became the basis of Anna Maria’s relaunch 45 in 1966. However, Amici come prima was perhaps a surprising release, as its downbeat feel contrasted sharply with La Cricca’s chirpy repertoire. Despite Anna Maria’s convincing performance of the song, the disc left record buyers confused and sales proved slow.
Finding herself without a recording contract, Anna Maria accepted a one-disc deal with CBS.
The result, issued in 1967, proved one of the singer’s best releases – and now remains one of her hardest to find. The A-side, Non svegliarti mai, was a cover of The Grassroots’ City women, while the flip, È capitato proprio a me, was a take on Brenda Lee’s Ain’t gonna cry no more.
When it, too, failed to sell, Anna Maria found herself relying on live performances to keep her career going and for an income.
Her perseverance paid off in 1969 when she was offered a contract with the Variety label. There, she issued a version of Cilla Black’s Surround yourself with sorrow, retitled Quando si spezza un grande amore. The highly anticipated release flopped spectacularly – which may explain why the British star’s Italian recording of the song remained in the can for many years.
Another switch of label, this time to the Fontana label, in 1970, offered Anna Maria a change of style – and fortune. She was entered into the Disco per l’estate contest with La corriera. Though she didn’t win, her transport-themed ditty helped to raise the singer’s public profile.
Further discs followed in the form of Una tazza di caffè and Bussa dai (a cover of Tony Orlando and Dawn’s Knock three times) in 1971 and Bubble gum in 1972, before Anna Maria hung up her microphone.
What became of the singer remains unknown.