Italian singer Iva Zanicchi was the undisputed queen of the San Remo song festival, with three wins in the 1960s and 1970s. She also scored hit after hit with her soulful stylings throughout both decades and remains a familiar face on Italian television screens today.
She was born on 18 January 1940 in Lagonchio, near Reggio Emilia in northern Italy.
In 1961 she won a singing contest held by a local paper and went on to take part in the Castrocaro contest for newcomers the following year. As a result, she landed a contract with the Ri-Fi label and in May 1963 issued her first single, Zero in amore. However, neither it nor a follow up, Tu dirai, issued later that year, sold.
Her fortune changed in 1964 when she released Come ti vorrei, an Italian version of US singer Solomon Burke’s Cry to me and which sold 400,000 copies. Its soulful style proved a perfect showcase for her rich vocals and set the tone for much of her future material.
A second hit, Credi, a version of US soul singer Chuck Jackson’s Getting ready for the heartbreak, issued in August 1964, consolidated her position in the firmament of Italian girl stars.
She kicked off 1965 by taking part in the San Remo song festival. The practice at the time was to have two singers – one Italian and one international – perform each song. Both Iva and American star Gene Pitney performed I tuoi anni più
belli. The song didn’t make it to the final but
it gave Iva another hit all the same.
An appearance in the Canzone per l’estate contest later that year with the easy listening Accarezzami amore, however, proved less successful, though the song was included on her excellent first album, issued the same year. The album also included her final single of the year, Caro mio, and its B-side, Non tornar mai, a version of Here comes the night, originally recorded by British singer Lulu and a hit for the group Them.
In 1966 she found herself back at the San Remo festival, this time with the gentle La notte dell’addio, which both she and Vic Dana performed and which finished seventh, ahead of (arguably better) entries by Caterina Caselli and Françoise Hardy. That summer she appeared again at the Canzone per l’estate contest, singing her latest release, Fra noi. Both singles made the top 30 in the Italian charts.
Ma pecchè and Monete d’oro were also issued as singles that year, though neither fared as well.
By now something of a regular at the San Remo festival, she sang the powerful Non pensare a me in the January 1967 contest. This time the song won, and both she and Claudio Villa, its other performer, enjoyed hits with their versions.
Quel momento – from the 1967 Disco per l’estate – and Le montagne, a version of Ike and Tina Turner’s classic River deep, mountain high, were both issued as singles later that year, along with Dolcemente, a version of Love me tender.
After giving a lacklustre performance of Per vivere at the 1968 San Remo contest, she failed to make the final, though her Canzone per l’estate entry, Amore amor, gave her another hit.
She confused the record-buying public with the Schlager-esque La felicità, issued that summer, though it proved a chart success, and rounded off the year with Senza catente, her take on the Righteous Brothers’ altogether classier Unchained melody.
1969 was another good year for the singer at the San Remo festival, where her Zingara took first place. The song was a big chart hit and has gone on to become her signature tune.
Her win allowed her to represent Italy at the Eurovision song contest, held in Madrid that year. However, the gorgeous Due grosse lacrime bianche failed to win over jurors, finishing a disappointing equal 13th. (The contest was won by four girl singers that year, including Britain’s Lulu.) The song also flopped at home.
Further singles, Un bacio sulla fronte, Che vuoi che sia and Vivrò (a cover of the Platters’ My prayer, which she’d performed at Canzonissima festival), all issued in 1969, also failed to repeat the chart success of her San Remo winner.
Inevitably, she took part again in 1970, this time coming third with L’arca di Noè, and won the contest again in 1974 with Ciao cara come stai? She continued to enjoy hits throughout the decade, before broadening her career to take in acting as a game show host from the mid-1980s.
Later she also tried her hand at politics, attempting (unsuccessfully) to win a parliamentary seat for Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italy party in the 1999 elections. She would later become a Member of the European Parliament.
She continues to record and present television programmes to this day.
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