She was a star in the 1960s and her meeting with Elvis changed everything

Most of you may have not heard of Rita Pavone, but this Italian's singer life story is truly a fascinating one.

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Most of you may have not heard of Rita Pavone, but this Italian’s singer life story is truly a fascinating one.

Possessing inner talent for singing and an enchanting voice, she seemed to be destined to reach stardom and become a famous name in the music industry.

For Pavone, it all started when she began singing at different student parties and then at various bars in her hometown of Turin. Her mother believed that music wasn’t the way forward for Rita. “It was the last resort. I had almost decided to drop everything. I had been singing since the age of nine, but I was unable to emerge and go beyond local notoriety. My mother advised me to put my dreams of glory on the back burner,” Pavone said.

GAB Archive/Redferns

Her father, however, was very supportive of Pavone’s wish to make a name for herself one day and encouraged her to take part at one of the greatest competitions of the time, the “Rally of the Unknown.” He even wrote a letter to the organizer of the talent show, Teddy Reno, and asked him to give his daughter a spot. The number of people who took part was 20,000, but eventually, Pavone won the competition and she became a star almost overnight, with her first album being recorded mere weeks after winning the competition.

“To this day, I still wonder [what the secret to my success was], and I can’t explain it. Wherever I went, from Brazil to England, from France to Germany, I was able to enter the international hit parades with songs translated into foreign languages ​​or made specifically for that market,” Rita explained.

“I myself was the first to marvel at all this interest in me. Perhaps I possessed a particular type of vocality, a bit high-pitched, cutting, but deeply personal.”

Youtube/TeleRicordi

She added: “I think this strong personality was my trump card. Having personality means not going unnoticed. Today, however, there is a rampant tendency to copy others, and this has inevitably led to many “photocopied products.” In my case I also had a face halfway between a girl and a boy, red hair freckled face.”

After selling hundreds of thousands of albums in Italy, Pavone was asked to the United States to audition for RCA Records. A t the time, many predicted she would be the next great thing, but in the midst of the Beatlemania and people’s affection for Elvis, who was one of Pavone’s greatest idols, that didn’t seem to be an easy task.

While at the States, Pavone performed with the likes of Diana Ross and The Supremes, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tom Jones. Moreover, she appeared several times on Ed Sullivan Show and in performances at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York.

Youtube/Elvis Presley

During an occasion, she met Elvis Presley in person and he gave her a signed painting.

One day, while recording with her producer, Chet Atkins, in the “Music City,” Pavone, who didn’t understand English at the time, overheard her “muse,” Brenda Lee, talking about Elvis. She didn’t understand why at first, but she soon learned that the King of Rock&Roll would visit the recording studio. There was a huge crowd gathered in front of it, waiting to meet Presley.

“Suddenly, there was a chill because I wanted to meet him. So I went to Chet Atkins, asking him the big favor of letting me know him when at one point,” Pavone recalled.

“I saw a crowd of people arming themselves, they seemed to be preparing the landing in Normandy, he absolutely didn’t want to be disturbed, they said. So I started whining like children do, it wasn’t possible to waste such an opportunity, I convinced them, but they made me a lot of recommendations.”

Vincenzo Lombardo/Getty Images

She then added, “I waited until midnight in the RCA studios, until they entered: first, his lawyer, his secretary, his sound engineer, all his staff. And then him. He had yellow Ray-Bans that I had never seen before, the sideburns it was beautiful. He came in and greeted us and he came towards me. I asked him if I could have a photo of him and he was very helpful, he told me I could have even more. So he called his secretary who gave me a canvas where he wrote: Best wishes to Rita, then he gave me a kiss and left.

“His manager, the famous Colonel Parker, didn’t want me to meet him. But when he came out of the studio, he saw me and said, ‘But I know you! You went to the Ed Sullivan show.’ It was Elvis who recognized me. I asked him for a photo, but he even gave me one of his paintings.”

Meeting Elvis Presley is something Pavone will remember until the rest of her life.

I have it at home! My son, who is very realistic and pragmatic, said that when I die, he will sell it! A man of that stature and popularity who was so down to earth blew me away,” she stated.

Vincenzo Lombardo/Getty Images

After spending some years in America, Pavone decided to return to Italy where she was adored by millions.

She married Teddy Reno, the organizer of the talent show that turned her into a star. However, Teddy being 20 years her senior wasn’t accepted well by her family and the public. Her father was even mad when he heard the two were dating, but some time after they tied the knot, he visited them in Switzerland, where they still live today, and told her he was sorry he didn’t respect her choice.

Many of her songs entered the charts of UK, Germany, and even Brazil and other countries.

Pavone announced her retirement from the stage in the mid-2000s, but she returned in 2016 and competed in the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars. She also performed at the legendary Sanremo Festival in 2020, and again the year after, in a Christmas special. 

One thing is certain, Rita Pavone has had an impressive career.

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