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Song of the Day for November 18: Mambo Italiano with Rosemary Clooney

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Rosemary Clooney was a hitmaker in the early 1950s, but she wasn’t the type of entertainer to select songs that were filled with salacious lyrics. But on November 18, 1954 ABC’s radio stations banned the Song of the Day, “Mambo Italiano,” not understanding some of the words, thinking they might be suggestive.

Clooney had to get statements from a romantic languages professor and a Catholic priest saying the Italian lyrics weren’t vulgar or offensive.

The Italian words were as much mumbo jumbo as they were “Mambo Italiano.” Bob Merrill wrote the song on deadline in an Italian restaurant in New York. He scribbled down the words on a napkin, then he called in the lyrics, and hummed the melody and rhythm to a piano player working for producer Mitch Miller.

“Mambo Italiano” was a novelty song. Merrill was parodying the mambo, a Latin dance that was popular in New York in 1954. Merrill mixed English along with Spanish words such as rhumba and enchilada and Italian words such as goombah, bambino and paesano.

Clooney convincingly sang the song in an Italian accent even though her family was Irish-American. The song reached number eight on U.S. Cash Box Top 50. It did even better in England, where it was number one.

Many singers have covered the song since Clooney made it a hit. Carlo Boni’s version was a hit in Italy in 1956. Dean Martin had a hit with it in 1955. His version lives on in an Airbnb commercial.

Song of the Day is the creation of Sheldon Zoldan, former editor of The News-Press in Fort Myers, and special to WGCU.