Carlo Buti – 11/14/02 – 11/16/63
Several years ago I received an email from my brother-in-law, who is several years older than me.
“Remember tomorrow is Carlo Buti’s birthday! Proper celebrations should be made!”
My reply was “How the hell do you know that?”. Then I checked. Sure enough it’s Carlo’s birthday. All of this is an inside joke among old Italian Americans.
Deep in everyone’s psyche there is something which brings back memories of youth.
It might be a certain smell, a specific movie or a place.
As a child living in Little Italy it was music. A certain kind of music.
Summertime meant open windows in my neighborhood. Grandma hated “American” windows. She missed the windows that opened outward instead of up and down. She would admit when pressed that windows in Brooklyn kept you a lot warmer in Winter. Since no one had air conditioning everyone had their windows open in the two and three story apartment buildings which made up the neighborhood.
Summer was the time of music flowing down upon the little kids playing in the streets under the watchful eyes of mommas and grandmas sitting on stoops or leaning on elbows at the second floor window.
And the singer we heard the most was Carlo Buti. A popular pre-war singer, his records were especially loved in the Italian communities of America, Argentina and Chile. He sang in the style of “common people”, singing popular songs and not in the grand operatic style of previous generations. When he retired in 1956 he was the most recorded voice in Italian musical history.
And he reminded Italians of home and families they had left behind never to see again.
Grandma tried to teach me to waltz to “Non Ti Scordar di Me”, sung by Buti in a style that ripped at every Italian immigrant’s heart.
“The Swallows departed from my sunless, cold country searching for spring violets, love nests and happiness.
Even my little swallow left without a kiss, without a goodbye.
Do not forget me,
my life is tied to you
I will love you forever
you will always be in my dreams
Don’t forget me
we are bound together
there will always be a place
in my heart for you
Do not forget me”
Grandma couldn’t get through the waltz; the sound reminded her of parents who were long gone and funerals she couldn’t attend and brought her to tears. She had left Italy with my grandfather in 1906 never to see her home again. The little boy didn’t know why and couldn’t understand.
I grew up, discovered Elvis and Heartbreak Hotel. The old timers passed on. Now I’m one of the old timers. One of my favorite sarcastic critiques to my wife of a contemporary singer was “Yeah but he’s not Carlo Buti!” My wife would laugh. Just like her brother who sent me the email. She was Italian and she got the joke.
So one Christmas in the ‘90s I received a special gift under the tree. It was obviously an LP record.
Other than that, I had no idea what it could be. I carefully removed the wrapping and there it was :
“Carlo Buti – Greatest Hits.”
“Where did you find this? I asked in complete shock.
“In the discount record section at K Mart!” came the reply. “No one but you would want it! They couldn’t give it away! I was just browsing when I saw it! I looked at the cover twice. B-U-T-I! Grabbed it for you like a shoplifter! I’ve been hiding it since September!”
I lovingly put the record on my turntable and when the sound came out I was transported back in time to days with grandma in Brooklyn and my great aunt in the Bronx My wife then commented “You know something? I know that music!” She too, somewhere deep down had absorbed it into her DNA. She “remembered” the music.
Today one can get all the Buti one wants on disc – the sound preserved forever in the ether of the net.
Listen and you will hear the sounds of Italian immigrant neighborhoods from Brooklyn to Buenos Aires, the sound of a people remembering all those they left behind.
And for the Italians in Argentina, a Tango!