“She’s like a cross between The Beatles and Brenda Lee,” one fan said. Nonetheless, Rita Pavone may be unfamiliar to American audiences.
The Italian singer rose to fame in her homeland in the 1960s before venturing to the United States, where she appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and scored a string of hits. She was also given a signed painting by Elvis Presley and performed with Diana Ross and Paul Anka.
Nonetheless, despite being a legend in her native Italy, Pavone never achieved cult status in the United States. So, how did she become a celebrity in the first place, and what does she do now?
Here’s everything you need to know about Rita Pavone, including the incredible story about her meeting with Elvis.
Rita Pavone was born on August 23, 1945, in Turin, Italy. Her father, Giovanni Pavoni, worked at the Fiat factory in the Italian city, while her mother, Maria, raised Rita and her three brothers, Perio, Carlo, and Cicco.
Rita Pavone is a famous Italian singer.
Pavone was always meant to be a performer. She began singing at various student parties and then in different Turin bars.
But, in 1962, as pop music became more popular worldwide, thanks partly to Elvis Presley – with whom Pavone became friends – and The Beatles, her life changed forever.
The first “Rally of the Unknown” – a talent competition – was to be held in the Ariccia neighborhood of Rome, Italy’s capital. Over 20,000 aspiring artists would participate, though neither Pavone nor her mother was sure music was the way forward at the time.
“It was the last option. I was on the verge of abandoning everything. I had been singing since I was nine, but I had yet to break through and achieve more than local notoriety.”
“My mother advised me to put my dreams of glory on hold,” Pavone explained.
Rita’s father, on the other hand, stood by her the entire time. In secret, he wrote Teddy Reno, the talent competition’s organizer, a letter explaining why his daughter should be chosen. It worked, and the young, aspiring singer was given a chance.
“I went thinking it was my last chance. If I had missed out on this opportunity, I would have returned to Turin and, on my mother’s advice, probably married,” Rita explained.
You can probably guess what followed. Rita won the competition and became an overnight sensation. Her first album, “La Partita di Pallone” (“The Ball Game”), was recorded in a matter of weeks, with Rita performing live as well as on Italian television shows.
“You don’t have to dress like a woman to be a woman.”
“I still wonder [what the secret to my success was] to this day, and I can’t explain it. I was able to enter international hit parades with songs translated into foreign languages or made specifically for that market wherever I went, from Brazil to England, from France to Germany,” Rita explained.
“I was the first to notice all of this interest in me. Perhaps I had a unique voice, a little high-pitched, cutting, but deeply personal.”
“I think this strong personality was my trump card,” she added. “Being unique means not going unnoticed. Today, however, there is a widespread tendency to imitate others, resulting in many photocopied products.”
“In my case, I also had a face that was halfway between a girl and a boy, with red hair and freckles.”
Rita’s appearance and appearance would later become a central talking point when she entered the world of television. She appeared to be a “tomboy,” a term for girls or young women with masculine characteristics.
“You don’t have to dress like a woman to be a woman,” Pavone once said.
Pavone, 19, rose to fame quickly after winning the talent show and becoming a major star in Italy. She sold hundreds of thousands of albums in Italy and was invited to audition for RCA Records in the United States. Rita was thought to be the next big thing.
She released an album and went on a promotional tour across the United States, where she performed on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show.
The unforgettable encounter with Elvis Presley
She also had the opportunity to meet some of the greatest singers of all time. Rita shared the stage with Diana Ross and The Supremes, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tom Jones, among others.
She also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and in performances at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall.
However, the most important and visible meeting did not occur on any stage. Instead, it was in a Nashville recording studio that Rita Pavone met one of her biggest idols and arguably the biggest star of all time: Elvis Presley.
With his music, the King of Rock gave the entire world something new. He was undoubtedly one of the most talented and charismatic entertainers we’ve ever seen.
Elvis Presley, in addition to being a major music star with songs like Jailhouse Rock, In The Ghetto, Hound Dog, and Love Me Tender, appeared in many films that helped propel his career to new heights. Among these were classics such as King Creole (1958), Viva Las Vegas (1964), and The Trouble with Girls (1969).
Tragically, Elvis died in August of 1977, leaving the world to mourn a true entertainment phenom.
Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate outside of Memphis, Tennessee, became one of the most famous places in the world after the musician purchased it for $102,500 in 1959.
According to the museum, Elvis moved into Graceland on June 26, 1957, and remained there until his tragic death on August 16, 1977.
Only a few years later, in 1982, his ex-wife Priscilla, along with two executors, converted it into a museum to preserve the estate and Elvis’ legacy.
“I started whining like a child.”
Graceland has 23 rooms and is 17,552 square feet in size. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, attracting approximately 600,000 visitors annually.
According to reports, it is the second most visited house in the United States, trailing only the White House. More than 22 million people have visited the museum since its inception in 1982.
The estate is said to cost the Presley family around $500,000 per year to maintain.
Rita Pavone was in “Music City” recording with her producer, Chet Atkins, when they met. Brenda Lee, her “muse,” was talking about Elvis when the Italian, who didn’t understand English at the time, overheard her. Rita, on the other hand, had no idea why.
Elvis was scheduled to visit the same recording studio. Pavone got goosebumps when she found out through her interpreter.
“There was a chill in the air because I wanted to meet him. So I went to Chet Atkins and asked him for a big favor: let me know when he was at one point,” Rita recalled.
“I saw a crowd of people arming themselves, they seemed to be preparing the landing in Normandy, he didn’t want to be disturbed,” they said.
“So I started whining like a child, saying that it was impossible to waste such an opportunity, and I convinced them, but they made a lot of suggestions.”
“I waited until midnight in the RCA studios until they entered: first, his lawyer, secretary, sound engineer, and all his staff,” Rita Pavone added.
“Then there was him. He wore yellow Ray-Bans that I had never seen before, and his sideburns were stunning. He came in and greeted us before approaching me.”
“I asked him if I could have a photo of him, and he was very accommodating, telling me that I could have even more. So he called his secretary, who handed me a canvas with the words ‘Best wishes to Rita,’ before kissing me goodbye and leaving.”
Elvis revealed to Rita that he knew her.
Rita Pavone holds a very special place in her heart for the canvas, and meeting Elvis was, of course, incredible.
“I have it right here! My son, who is very realistic and pragmatic, has stated that he will sell it when I die! I was blown away by a man of that stature and popularity who was so down to earth,” she said.
Millions of fans around the world wished to meet Elvis himself. Rita’s wish was granted, but if Elvis’ manager had his way, she would never have had the opportunity.
Elvis’ manager reportedly did not want Elvis to meet Rita at all. When they finally met, Elvis said something incredible.
“His manager, Colonel Parker, did not want me to meet her. But as he exited the studio, he noticed me and said, ‘But I know you!’ You went to see Ed Sullivan.’ Elvis was the one who recognized me. “I asked him for a photo, but he gave me one of his paintings instead,” Pavore recalled.
The Italian singer’s life couldn’t have gone any better. In 1966, three of her songs, Datemi un Martello, Viva La Pappa Col Pomodoro, and Cuore charted in the United Kingdom. Several more hits followed, all of which charted in countries such as Brazil and Germany.
However, as previously stated, there was an issue with breaking into the United States. At the time, “Beatlemania” was sweeping the country, making it exceedingly difficult to emerge as the next big thing.
Rita Pavone’s contentious marriage
Rita never achieved great success in the United States, and after five years, she decided to return to Italy. There, she rose to prominence as a television personality. The singer made her television debut in the 1965 series Il Giornalino di Gian Burrasca and appeared in numerous series and films.
Rita found the love of her life after returning to Italy. Remember Teddy Reno, who first accepted her into the talent show all those years ago? He had become her manager, and their love had blossomed over the years. Finally, in 1968, the couple married, even though their union was highly contentious among friends and family.
Teddy was nearly 20 years Rita’s senior. They’d been together since the early 1960s, but the age gap was scandalous even at the time. When Rita returned to Italy after meeting Elvis, her father was upset that she and Teddy were planning to marry.
Pavone’s father was adamantly opposed, even threatening to sabotage the wedding in any way he could. However, as time passed, he realized he had made a mistake by doubting his daughter.
“He came to our house in Switzerland one day and admitted he’d made a mistake. “Dad did everything; he didn’t want me to marry, but then he realized everyone has to make their own choices,” Rita recalled.
Today’s Rita Pavone
Pavone’s career lasted decades. She announced her retirement from the stage in the mid-2000s. She returned seven years later and competed in the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars in 2016. She will perform at the legendary Sanremo Festival in 2020, as well as in a Christmas special the following year. She currently resides in Ticino, Switzerland, with her husband, Teddy.
Rita Pavone’s career has been truly magnificent, and we are grateful that she had the opportunity to meet and hang out with Elvis Presley.