Hollywood and beyond: Who are the Star-Spangled Sicilians?
From the White House to the movie stars, passing by music idols, there are many celebrities of Sicilian heritage
Whenever the topic of famous Sicilian-Americans comes up, Al Pacino and his unforgettable role of Michael Corleone in the Godfather trilogy is the first thing to come to mind to most people. However, the actor whose origin can be traced back to the small town of Corleone (birthplace of his mother Rose Gelardi) is not the only American star with a Sicilian genetic inheritance. From Hollywood to the White House, passing by world-famous singers, many modern icons have chosen to keep the Sicilian surname, while others’ heritage, whose last names have been “lost in translation”, often go unnoticed.
Frank Sinatra, who is considered by many to be the greatest voices of the 20th century, was born in the USA, but his father, Antonino Martino, came from Lercara Friddi (Palermo). However, it is a well know fact that he used to live in Palagonia (in the province of Catania) and that his real name was Severino, which he left behind when he was involved in a honor crime and was forced to escape to the US.
The grandfather of John Travolta came from Godrano (Palermo), but there is no trace of his surname’s roots. It is probably a rare surname that had belonged to a few families before they emigrated abroad, or it was wrongly copied as “Travolta” upon arrival in the USA.
Sylvester Stallone, owes his surname to his father, Francesco Stallone Sr., a native of Castellammare del Golfo (Trapani). A veteran of the Second World War, Stallone was a barber by trade but in 1976 played a small role in his the movie that launched Sylverster’s carrier, Rocky.
Jill Jacobs, First Lady of the United States, is the granddaughter of Domenico Giacoppo from Gesso (Messina) who went to America with his family in 1900. However, it seems that Giacoppo family came from Castanea delle Furie (Messina). The surname is thought to have been changed to “Jacobs” to avoid mistakes. During the last US election on the 3rd of November, many TV programs talked about the First Lady’s origins by interviewing some of her cousins still living in Gesso.
The real name of singer Alicia Keys is actually. Alicia Augello Cook. A name she owes to the Sicilian surname to her mother, whose parents came from Sciacca (Agrigento). A deep Meditterrean heritage which she admitted to have had an influence on her temperament and strong character.
Maybe not everyone knows that the real name of Lady Gaga is Stefani Germanotta. The world renowned pop star and actress, author of hits like Bad Romance, Paparazzi and the movie A Star is Born, is once again on the screen with House of Gucci. Her father’s grandfather came from Naso (Messina). Lady Gaga, during the lockdown in March 2020, showed in a video on Instagram closeness and solidarity to Italy for its difficult situation, recalling her origins.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, American researcher and immunologist, who is serving as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, owes its Sicilian origins to the paternal grandparents, native of Sciacca (Agrigento) and emigrated to USA at the end of the 19th century. A connection to Sicily which has recently rekindled when the doctor was award the honorary citizenship of Sciacca by the city’s mayor.
Angelo Badalamenti, composer well known for the soundtrack of the nineties TV series Twin Peaks and of the movie Blue Velvet, both by David Lynch, has Sicilian origins by his father born in Cinisi (Palermo) and emigrated to the USA. Badalamenti received a career award at the Efebo d’Oro in 2005 in Agrigento.
Translated by Daniela Marsala