Born September 22, 1934, to a Milanese family, Italian singer Ornella Vanoni spent most of her twenties alternating between theater (her debut was in 1957 with Federico Zardi's I Giacobini) and music. She started by singing "le canzoni della mala," or songs about the underworld, but after meeting Gino Paoli in 1960 (with whom she wrote "Senza Fine," one of her biggest hits) she began exploring the more sentimental sounds of pop. After she decided to concentrate solely on music, her song "Tu Si 'Na Cosa Grande" won first prize at the Festival di Napoli in 1964, followed by a second-place finish at Sanremo in 1968 with "Casa Bianca." Though during this time period she did release a number of successful singles (1967's "Tristezza" and "La Musica é Finita," 1969's "Mi Sono Innamorata di Te"), it was in next decades (in 1974 Vanoni started her own record label, Vanilla, and moved to Rome, a stay that would last for four years) in which her status as the First Lady of Italian Music was truly established.
A sex symbol as well as a representation of the new Italian woman (the feminist movement didn't hit there until the '70s), Vanoni's look was admired by Gianni Versace, among others, especially as she began to branch out -- both in terms of audience and style -- from her homeland, exploring Brazilian music as she sang Italianized versions of Vinicius de Moraes and Toquinho as well as of Erasmo Carlos' "Sent Ado A'beira Do Caminho," retitled "L'Appuntamento" (a song which, incidentally, after its inclusion in the 2001 film Ocean's Eleven, started a resurgence in Vanoni's popularity stateside), and she has also sung with jazz players like Herbie Hancock, Gil Evans, and Beppe Quirici. In 1985 Vanoni reunited with collaborator Paoli for a sold-out tour as well as for Ti Ricordi? No Non Mi Ricordo, an album of 12 new songs that was released two days after her 70th birthday. ~ Marisa Brown