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Robert Finley and Bobby Rush: Affirming the Vitality of the Blues

With albums released in late 2023, two veteran and venerable artists, Robert Finley and Bobby Rush, affirm the vitality of the blues and their eminence as exemplars of an idiom often considered legacy, as influence, but not a living style. Finley, 70, and Rush, 90, put paid to that notion on Black Bayou and All My Love for You.

Crime and Prejudice: the NYPD's Italian Squad

A century ago, an immigrant community in New York became the target of politicians, the press, and the police because of the crimes committed by a small number of violent men among them. The community, whose rapid growth alarmed nativists, suffered from the depredations of the criminal minority, who mainly victimized their own people. The non-criminal majority wanted police protection but not to be overpoliced or (mis)treated as suspects simply because of their national origins.

Rhiannon Giddens: You're the One

In 2023, the singer and instrumentalist released her first album of all original material, You're the One.

Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story

Ain't But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story explores what the book's editor, Willard Jenkins, calls "the eternal puzzle: a music, born largely out of the African experience in America" has been written about mainly "by people almost totally outside of that experience."

Marco Cappelli, Between Naples and New York

Brooklyn-based (and Naples born) guitarist, composer, and bandleader Marco Cappelli makes music that is beyond category while remaining connected to Southern Italy. He has founded a new label, 41 Parallel Records, to disribute his genre-bending works.

Heaven Stood Still: The Incarnations of Willie DeVille

Willy DeVille had all the goods to be a major rock star. One fan, Bob Dylan, insists that DeVille belongs in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. But this gifted and unique artist never found the mass audience and success he craved. Although he had a devoted following in the United States, he was a star only in Europe. The U.S. music industry didn't know what to do with him, and a turbulent personal life of addiction, marital strife, illness, and suicide kept getting in the way.

GlobalFest 2023: On Stage and On Tiny Desks

For 20 years, globalFEST has brought music acts from around the world to New York stages, introducing audiences to a dazzling array of talent from more than 80 countries. For the third consecutive year, globalFEST is offering fans something extra: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST, a three-installment online series on YouTube produced in partnership with National Public Radio Music. The series presents a combination of artists who are alumni of the flagship live event, others new to globalFEST, and several who performed at this year's festival

The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide

Two global pandemics, HIV and COVID-19, have exposed deep social divides. How people experience these two viruses depends on class, race, gender, sexuality, and other social categories and the interactions among them. The prominent AIDS activist, Sean Strub, coined the term "viral underclass" to describe how stigma and government policy combine to produce discrimination against people with HIV. In his new book, The Viral Underclass, Steven W. Thrasher builds on Strub's concept to develop a theory of "how and why marginalized populations are subjected to increased harms of viral transmission, exposure, replication and death."

From Lagos to Palermo and Back Again: Chris Obehi Returns to his Motherland

"Cu ti lu dissi" ("Who Told You?") is one of the most famous Sicilian songs and perhaps the most beloved composition by the late folk singer Rosa Balistreri. A few years ago, a young busker with a guitar was singing Balistreri's soulful lament in Palermo's Ballarò market. That might not have attracted much attention except for the fact that this street singer was a young African man. Chris Obehi arrived in Sicily in 2015 as a teenager, after a harrowing journey that began with his fleeing Nigeria, being imprisoned in Libya, and crossing the Mediterranean in an inflatable boat packed with more than 100 other refugees, including children.

States of Liberation

"East Germany was an extraordinary place for gay people in the 1980s." That startling statement, so counter-intuitive to the conventional wisdom about the now-defunct German Democratic Republic (GDR), appears in the last chapter of States of Liberation, historian Samuel Clowes Huneke's groundbreaking comparative study of gay activism in East Germany and West Germany. In the book's preceding chapters, Huneke meticulously details the "convoluted" path that liberation took in a divided country to arrive at "the utopian quality of queer life in contemporary Germany."

Queen of Sheba

Queen of Sheba, a seven-part suite composed by the Lebanese-French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf and sung by the Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, reinvents the Solomon and Sheba legend as an encounter between Africa and the white, Judeo-Christian world.


Babilonia, the 2022 release by the acclaimed composer/percussionist/singer Antonio Castrignanò, takes the listener on a voyage on which every stop offers pleasure, surprise, excitement, and often stunning beauty. It's Castrignanò's masterpiece and a highwater mark in contemporary Southern Italian music. (Rootsworld)

12 Essential Contemporary Blues Artists

The blues is often thought of as a legacy genre, not a vital and contemporary style. These 12 artists, men and women, make the case for the blues' enduring power and relevance. (PopMatters)

La Notte della Taranta: Reviving the Tradition

La Notte della Taranta, founded in 1998 to celebrate the musical culture of Salento, the southern tip of the Puglia region, not only is Italy's biggest festival of traditional music; it's also one of Europe's major music events. Over three weeks in August, thousands of local residents, as well as visitors from other parts of Italy, Europe, and beyond, take part in the fesival's concerts and other cultural activities.

The Unmentionable Whiteness of Americanaland

The problem with Americanaland, begins with its subtitle: Where Country & Western Met Rock 'n' Roll. It's catchy and marketable, this idea that a diverse genre represents a meeting of two great streams of American popular music. But it's also reductive and misleading, and worse, racially obtuse. To be clear, I am not imputing any bigotry, intentional or otherwise, to the author. It's just that the limitations of the "country meets rock 'n roll" rubric —and the scant attention paid to Black music throughout the book—results in an incomplete and skewed account that avoids confronting some of Americana's pertinent and challenging issues. (PopMatters)

Love's Next Meeting: The Forgotten History of Homosexuality and the Left in American Culture

Aaron S. Lecklider's revelatory account of  a relationship that was "never easy" but more complex than is often thought (PopMatters)

Sicilian Musicians Fratelli Mancuso: After a 10-Year Absence, Manzàma

Enzo and Lorenzo Mancuso talk about their album, their work in theater and film, and other milestones of their more than three-decade career -- and their own experience as emigrants (La Voce di New York)

A Sicily Story

A short story about an aspect of Sicily that may surprise, published in the literary journal Ovunque Siamo

The Two Louis: "Pops" and "The Wildest"

New Orleans' two great Louis, Armstrong and Prima, were formed by their hometown and its culture; though both left the city, it never left them or their music. They were both artists and entertainers, gifted musicians, and unabashed crowd-pleasers. My PopMatters report from New Orleans about the annual Satchmo Summerfest and the New Orleans' Jazz Museum's Louis Prima exhibition (PopMatters)

Farewell to the "Father of Montalbano"

PopMatters feature article about Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, internationally known for his series of Inspector Montalbano novels, who died in July 2019 (PopMatters)

Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs

In Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs, James Sullivan sets out to "tell the story of modern American democracy" through 100 songs that "span a century of petition in the name of social progress." In nine chapters, the author explores the connections between social movements in the US — nonviolence, labor, civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, free speech, gay rights, immigration rights, and anti-nuclear activism — and songs that either emerged from or came to be associated with those causes (PopMatters)

Sleeping with a Celebrity: Frank Merlo, Tennessee Williams’ partner, gets his story told

My interview with author Christopher Castellani about his novel Leading Men (2019), a speculative fiction about Tennessee Williams, his lover Frank Merlo, and some of the famous people in their lives (Gay City News)

Fuori per sempre: Gay and Lesbian Italian Americans Come Out

This essay is my contribution to The Routledge History of the Italian Americans (2018), a major work of historical scholarship about Italian immigration and the history of Italians in America.

The Kingdom of Two Sicilies

My short story, "The Kingdom of Two Sicilies," published in the online literary journal Ovunque Siamo

Southern Decadence in the Vieux Carré

New Orleans' huge gay Labor Day bash began as bohemian bar crawl. It is now New Orleans' third-largest festival, after Mardi Gras and JazzFest. My Gay City News article explores the history of Southern Decadence and chronicles the 2018 edition (Gay City News)

The Sicily-New Orleans Connection: Jazz is the Art of Encounter par Excellence

Sicilian saxophonist Francesco Cafiso talks about Sicilian immigration to New Orleans, his experiences in the Crescent City, and jazz as democracy (La Voce di New York)

Bettye Lavette's "Things Have Changed"

Bettye Lavette's new album offers supremely soulful renditions of 12 Bob Dylan songs (PopMatters)

I Cento Passi

The decline of political cinema in Italy was inextricable from the declining fortunes of the Left following the violent extremism of the 1970s, the so-called leaden years and, a decade later, the fall of Communism. The waning of engage cinema continued throughout the 1990s, with a few exceptions. But as the twentieth century drew to a close, the director Marco Tullio Giordana made a film that represented a return to the tradition of political commitment. I cento passi (The Hundred Steps, 2000) is Giordana's biopic about Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato, a leftist anti-Mafia activist murdered in Sicily in 1978.

Camp, Satire, and Serious Artistry in Carnival Krewsing

Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans, documents a heretofore obscure but significant piece of Crescent City culture. Howard Philips Smith, who began writing about New Orleans gay life in the '80s, brings a journalist's attention to detail and a social historian's focus on lived experience to his account of "gay Carnival", from the '50s to the present (PopMatters)

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

October, by the British author China Miéville, is a gripping account of the Russian Revolution that offers the pleasures and rewards of a great novel. The book has vividly drawn characters, high drama, suspense, and an irresistible narrative momentum that sweeps the reader along from the first page to the tragic – but not inevitable – conclusion (PopMatters)

The Poetics of Displacement

Professor and poet Michelle Messina Reale documents the lives of refugees in Sicily by turning their words into verse. Her aim is to create awareness of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. "I use poetry because it's evocative, it's humanistic, and it can be read and understood by everyone," she says (La Voce di New York)

The Original Blues

Contrary to popular belief, the blues were not born on the Mississippi Delta. Historians Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff debunk myths about the origins of blues music, locating them not in the Delta but in southern black vaudeville (PopMatters)

From the Brooklyn Docks to the State Supreme Court: Recalling Frank Barbaro's Radical Life

Frank Barbaro, a working-class champion whose long life spanned the Brooklyn docks, the New York State Assembly, and the State Supreme Court, died September 2016. Barbaro was the last link to the tradition of working-class radicalism exemplified by his hero, Vito Marcantonio, the US Congressman from East Harlem. Born in Brooklyn to immigrant parents from Sicily and Calabria, he maintained a lifelong commitment to fighting on behalf of working people, tenants, and the poor, as well as for women’s and gay rights.

Marco Tullio Giordana's The Hundred Steps: The Biopic as Political Cinema

During the 1980s, the political engagement that fuelled much of Italy's postwar realist cinema nearly vanished, a casualty of both the domin ance of television and the decline of the political Left. But as the twentieth century drew to a close, the director Marco Tullio Giordana made "I Cento Passi" (The 100 Steps), a biopic about Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato, a leftist murdered in Sicily in 1978 by the Mafia (Mafia Movies: A Reader)

What is Carlo Ditta Talkin' About?

When it comes to New Orleans music, Carlo Ditta might not be a household name. But the 59-year-old producer, songwriter, and guitarist has been a vital figure on the Crescent City scene for decades (PopMatters)

Addio, Cosimo

Cosimo Matassa, who died September 11, 2014 at 88, was a son of Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans who settled in a working-class, multiethnic French Quarter neighborhood. Matassa became a pivotal figure in American vernacular music through his role in creating “the New Orleans sound” in his recording studios. According to music historian Jeff Hannusch, “Virtually every rhythm and blues record made in New Orleans between the late 1940s and early 1970s was engineered by Cosimo Matassa, and recorded in one of his four studios.” (I-Italy)

Pane, Vino, e Finocchio: In (Gay) Sicilia

Personal essay from VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), Purdue University about my first trip to Sicily

Rocking Chair Blues

For 12 consecutive weeks PopMatters ran my track-by-track analysis of Howlin' Wolf's Rocking Chair album, one of the most influential recordings in the history of the blues and an ur-text for many rock artists -- The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, Lucinda Williams, and many more (PopMatters)

Bread, Wine, and Soul

In 1995, I interviewed the great saxophonist Joe Lovano for the journal Voices in Italian Americana (VIA)about his career in jazz, and how his Sicilian background has influenced his music.

Mafia Movies encourages mafia aficionados to explore the rich variety of classics and rarities within the genre with provocative analyses of over forty films. The essays in this volume provide a comprehensive exploration of the myth of the mafia onscreen, identifying key features and connections to styles such as film noir, thrillers, and even westerns. Mafia Movies also questions whether there are uniquely American or Italian ways of depicting the mafia, exploring how filmmakers from both countries have approached the subject in divergent ways.

Mediated Ethnicity, a new collection of critical essays, includes my "Identity Crises: Race, Sex, and Ethnicity in Italian American Cinema"

"This collection offers a fresh re-reading and re-imagining of Italian Americans in film, from actors to directors, from subject to agency. The trans-Atlantic discourse that emerges from these keenly insightful essays offers a guidepost for future analyses. As we come to understand the evolving paradigm of Italian Americans, whose cinematic representation has long been object of discussion and debate, Mediated Ethnicity constitutes a prismatic lens through which the contemporary viewer/reader may re-discover the cultural positioning of Italians in America." - John Tintori Associate Arts Professor and Chair, Graduate Film Program New York University Tisch School of the Arts

"A Finook in the Crew"

"A Finook in the Crew: Vito Spatafore, The Sopranos, and the Queering of the Mafia Genre" looks at one of the most controversial and compelling Sopranos narratives -- that of the gay gangster Vito Spatafore. From The Essential Sopranos Reader" (University of Kentucky Presses)

An Offer We Can’t Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America

(Faber and Faber/Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

"For years, Italian antidefamation groups have denounced "The Sopranos," as well as such films as "The Godfather" and "GoodFellas," for reinforcing stereotypes ... De Stefano elevates this argument beyond a routine diatribe into a thoughtful, thorough analysis tracing the evolution of these vexing pop-culture icons, why their "dangerous allure" remains an enduring attraction, and how they impact perceptions about Italian-Americans."

--Boston Globe

A whip-smart meditation on the power of ethnic myth, in this instance the one that supposes that to be an Italian American is by definition to walk among the dons and the goombahs. The Mafia, some say, is fading away. But "if the mob indeed is dying, American popular culture tells a different story," writes cultural critic De Stefano. Thanks to The Sopranos, organized crime has been restored in the popular imagination to its proper role as heart and heart" of italianità. So culturally accurate is the show, De Stefano allows, that it may not be possible to correct that perception; even as the mobsters surrounding Tony Soprano take their cultural cues from earlier Mob classics—particularly The Godfather, the touchstone of it all--there are few pop-culture pieces that do not echo The Sopranos, few that depict Italian Americans as being, well, just plain folks without conniving, murderous streaks to wrestle with. De Stefano writes elegantly of self discoveries: As a bearded radical (à la Al Pacino's Serpico, one imagines) just beginning to be aware of being gay, he was still thrilled by Don Corleone, only to wonder later whether there weren't more to the story. He examines the rise of the mobster in popular culture, tracing its origin to the 1930 film The Doorway to Hell (and not, as many histories do, to the following year's Little Caesar), and follows its course through the thick stereotypes of the Untouchables era, to the pensive doings of Martin Scorsese's rebel gangsters and, finally, to David Chase's current depictions, which have anti-defamation groups at a constant boil. Should they be so bothered? De Stefano is sympathetic, but he wonders whether an unlinking from the mob and all its symbolism might not mean "the end of the Italian American as a protagonist in American popular culture." What's worse, to be seen in a negative light--or to not be seen at all? A good question, and a very good source for those who like to scratch below the surface. Kirkus Reviews

“De Stefano knows the gangster genre inside out, making it a pleasure to follow his thoughts on favorites like ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Donnie Brasco,’ ‘Goodfellas’ and the ‘Godfather’ trilogy, as well as lesser-known films like ‘A Bronx Tale.’"
Marilyn Stasio -- New York Times Book Review

“…De Stefano takes a careful look at the appeal of the Mafia in popular culture: how the image of the Italian gangster developed and how it affects Italian-Americans. He traces the evolution of the gangster in film, from the "roguishly charming" Irish gangster (James Cagney in Public Enemy) to the sinister Italian who replaced him (Paul Muni in Scarface). Southern Italian immigrants, who came to the U.S. in unprecedented waves, were seen as "unassimilable... irreducibly foreign" (according to an 1883 New York Times editorial), and De Stefano presents their history and the history of the Mafia, debunking some commonly held ideas, especially the myth that the Mafia is rooted in a centuries-old Sicilian tradition. De Stefano meticulously documents books, TV and films, especially the Godfather series, the work of Martin Scorsese and The Sopranos. He cites Italian-American writers and academics on how the perception of Italians as mobsters affects the community and contributes his own responses. And despite his conclusion that the Mafia "is now the paradigmatic pop culture expression of Italian-American ethnicity," De Stefano allows that Italians have succeeded in mainstream America. The book lacks a narrative arc, but the author has done a fine job with a complex and provocative subject. -- Publishers Weekly

“Not a history of organized crime but a study of how we think about organized crime, more precisely about Italians and crime. . . Valuable and interesting.”
Elliott J. Gorn -- Chicago Tribune

"Finally, a book that helps to explain America’s enduring fascination with the mythology of the Mafia." -- John Turturro

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