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Nicola Paone : Songs Of Italy Internet Radio

Nicola Paone

Nicola Paone, who died Christmas day at age 88, had a career as the sauciest of Italian singers before settling down to run one of the top Italian restaurants in the city for 40 years. To Italian immigrants of the 1940s and 1950s, Paone was the troubadour responsible for sentimental folk songs like “Uei Paesano” (“My Countrymen”). For Americans of all ethnicities, he was the charming Italian novelty singer of “The Telephone No Ring” and “The Big Professor”.

He sold millions of records in America and abroad, especially in Argentina, where he also made a film version of “Uei Paesano.” His self-named restaurant was long listed among the handful of top-flight Italian eateries in Manhattan. It became a favorite of the staff of National Review, which had offices nearby.

Paone was born in 1915 to Italian immigrants in Pennsylvania’s coal belt, where his father worked the mines for 20 years. His mother recognized his vocal talents early on, and encouraged him to sing traditional Italian folk
tunes that would serve as his musical inspiration. The family returned to Sicily in 1923, where he imbibed local folk culture. Paone said it was at this time that he began to compose little melodies to distract himself from his troubles. In 1931, he moved back to America and settled in the Bronx with a sister. There, he worked as a shoe-shine boy, a hat blocker,and a busboy at an Italian restaurant.

Dreaming of becoming an opera singer, Paone won amateur contests at local theaters and radio stations, and sang in commercials. Lacking the money for formal training, he learned the jeweler’s trade. He opened a jewelry store in 1942 while he was nurturing a part-time singing career for Italian American audiences on the side. At one point, he bought a 10-minute radio advertisement for his jewelry store in which he sang as “Il Cantante Misterioso” (“The Mysterious Singer”).

His compositions – eventually there would be more than 150 of them – concerned the lives of immigrants in the new world struggling to get ahead and send money home to the old country. Titles included “Tony the Iceman,” “The Subway Song,” and “Yakity Yak Blah Blah Blah,” about a nagging wife.

By the mid-1940s, Paone had begun his own record label, Etna, and was scoring hits, including the several-million-selling “The Telephone No Ring,” which Professor Victor Greene, in “A Passion for Polka.” described as “the story of a frustrated foreigner who is trying unsuccessfully to cope with an officious telephone operator and the complexities of modern communications technology.”

Paone became impresario of his own vaudeville troop. Hiring out the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the later 1940s, his act included comics, midgets, and a bear act.

His success spread back to Italy, as well as into Italian communities as farflung as Israel and Argentina. In Buenos Aires, he once sang to a crowd estimated at three-quarters of a million. When the boisterous throngs threatened to riot, he was credited with calming them by singing “Uei Paesano.”

In the 1950s, Paone became involved in a legal wrangle with Louis Prima, originally a jazz musician who had turned to Italian dialect novelty tunes like “Please No Squeeza da Banana.” Prima’s recording of “The Little Donkey” – a minor 1940s hit for Paone in Italian as “U’ Sciccardeu” – seemed to Paone a direct copyright violation. The two reached a negotiated settlement, but Paone became convinced Prima was cheating on the agreement. The affair seemed to dampen his interest in show business.

Although he was still charting singles by the late 1950s – “Blah, Blah, Blah” hit no. 1 in the Cash Box magazine song charts of 1959 – he determined to quit to spend more time with his wife and young son, whom he said he hardly recognized after years of touring.

In 1958, he opened his eponymous restaurant on East 34th Street, and it soon grew into a bastion of classical Italian cookery, with the owner manning the stove at times and contributing favorite recipes with names like “Veal Boom-Boom” and “Pasta Serenata.” While he rarely performed – making exceptions for brief tours of Argentina in the late 1960s and some charity gigs in the late 1980s – he could be found in the restaurant at the start of each day plucking his guitar and singing softly. Some mornings, he would sing his changing menu in radio ads on WQXR. He celebrated the restaurant’s Caesar salad with a cute ditty.

In a 1978 review of the restaurant, William F. Buckley, the National Review’s editor,opined,”I can name my favorite restaurant as glibly as I can name my favorite wife, country, religion, and journal of opinion.” Buckley found Paone’s zucchini particularly piquant. So enamored was Buckley of Paone that he named a character for him in his novel “Spy Time: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton.”

Paone retired from the restaurant in 1998 and recently moved to New Mexico to live near his son Joseph. Sadly, Joseph died suddenly in August, and Paone’s last days were in some ways more melancholy than any of his laments of an immigrant for his mother back in the old country.


24 Responses to “Nicola Paone”

  1. rich on January 16th, 2009 4:32 pm


    Does anyone Know where I can find a copy of Nicola Paone’s The Telephone No Ring song? Ive been looking for years and am starting to give up.


  2. Al Guglielmi on January 28th, 2009 3:44 pm

    I am looking for either/or a recording of Tony the Ice man or the lyrics to the song. A family friend many years ago would sing the song and I and my family have been trying to find this for years.

  3. admin on January 28th, 2009 10:15 pm

    There’s currently a copy for sale on Amazon. The One And Only Nicola Paone – lp Tony The Ice Man etc

  4. Tom on April 7th, 2009 9:53 am

    I don’t have the lyrics, LP, 45, 78….or whatever format “Tony the Ice Man” was recorded on. But, there is a singer that plays this song every year on a local cancer society telethon in northeastern Pennsylvania. If I dig around enough, I may be able to find a VHS copy of this singer doing the song.

  5. Janet on June 16th, 2009 12:24 pm

    Re: TONY THE ICE MAN -Since the album is no longer available on Amazon, it would be great if someone could put the song on You Tube. I can recall most of the lyrics but my version may need some corrections. I remember this song from my childhood. We had a 45 rpm copy. It’s the best. Nicola Paone is well loved by Italians in the US and Canada and it would be a shame to lose these songs. They are a big part of our heritage. Maybe a family member would be willing to resurrect his great songs. Thank you for the biography.

  6. Bud on June 16th, 2009 8:23 pm

    They calla me Tony, Tony,Tony the ica man
    Some people they know me, know me as Tony the ica man
    One lady she calla me, Oh she calla me,
    Oh she calla me up the stairs,
    What a surprise, when I bringa the ice, in the box, the ica box, When I opena, what I see….
    don’t know the rest

  7. Janet on June 17th, 2009 10:39 pm

    I see a provolone, a ______, oh a __pastrami, big salami , e capicolla, meat a balla , e gorgonzola? __ , a mozzarella la la la, la la la la la, In the box, what a gem(?), I say Goodbye Tony the Ica Man.(Please correct this, I will contact my relatives to see if they can help)

    “Hey wadda you think…maybe you , me sometime…hahahahha”

    My love my darling, my darling, my darling, I wanna come up. When I told her I love her, I love her, she tolda me to shut up, but when I got near her, near her, we started to kiss and kiss. The ice in one hand, you can well understand, We forgot , the ice got hot, wet the floor and Mama come.

    Oh goodbye my provolone, my salcicce ?, oh my _ pastrami, big salami, e capicollo, meataballa etc.

    Thanks Bud. Maybe the guy from Philly can help and put himself on YouTube.

  8. Jim on August 6th, 2009 4:22 am

    I just remember the last line: “That was a self exam, good-bye Tony the ica man. Good-bye”

  9. John on October 29th, 2009 12:31 am

    Hey Jim, I think the last line was slightly different…like this
    “that was a tougha jam, good-bye Tony the Ica Man. Good bye, Goodbye, GOODBYE! Thaks to all who gave me the ice box ingredients. Last time I heard the original 78 I was 11 years old. The newer 1950′s LP “The One And Only” has new versions of the old 78′s and I have to say that they are not as good as the 78′s were. Try for those. Ciao

  10. joe giangrande on November 11th, 2009 1:37 am

    This is what I remember; They call me Tony, Tony , Tony the Ica man, the people know me, they know me as Tony the Ica man. One lady she call me, call me call me upa stairs and what a suprise when I bring the ice, in the box the ica box when I open what I see. I see oh provolona a sacicca a pastrami a big salami capacoola a meataball gorgonzolla I think I have most of it, if you want the rest just send an email.

  11. Telo' on December 21st, 2009 8:50 pm

    I have an original record of the song if you are interested

  12. Donna Henderson on January 15th, 2010 11:57 am

    I remember my cousin Vinny (no pun intended) singing it when we were kids. I remember the descriptive words very clearly as being:
    Provolone, then something like “achachone”
    Escarole (pronounced “ashkarole”
    Hot pastrami, cooked salami

  13. Santillo Rinaldi on April 21st, 2010 11:43 am

    I woul like to kno where I could by Nicola Paone, records. Thak Yoy

  14. Joseph Tanny on April 23rd, 2010 2:15 pm

    To Rich,
    If you haven’t find yet a copy of the telephone song by Mr. Paone, please e-mail me and I’ll happily send it back 2 u: tanny_my@012.net.il.
    Sincerely – Joseph T.

  15. andrea on July 11th, 2010 1:47 pm

    i would like to watch the movie “uei paesano”……but no place where i can find it.
    anyone know some website where i could buy it?

  16. maria c salvi on July 25th, 2010 4:04 pm

    I have an old album of his in very good condition….I would be interested in selling it – if anybody is interested. Tony the Ice Man, The telephone no ring, dormi dormi and many others are in this album ….let me know. Maria

  17. Al Maniaci on September 5th, 2010 9:31 pm

    I sang Nicola Paone Songs in 1955 at my high school in N Y John ADAMS HS Tony the ICE Man Telephonhe no RING Sinora MYESTRA. I was 15 years old.I had records 78s I wish I had them now.I thought NICOLA was Wonderful.I found them On U tube Again Hallaleuia. Thanks NICOLA AL MANIACI

  18. PETE on September 21st, 2010 1:37 am


  19. PETE on September 21st, 2010 1:38 am


  20. ed iannuccilli on September 26th, 2010 5:36 pm

    looking for Paone’s “Little Donkey.”

  21. ed iannuccilli on September 26th, 2010 5:37 pm

    Nicola Paone or Louis prima Little Donkey song

  22. Michael on October 16th, 2010 1:48 am


    I have a 78 version of Nicola Paone – The Telephone No Ring, the other side is I love Ny Nina.

    I can also convert it to MP3 for you and clean up the audio just a little bit.

    email me if you or anyone else is interested. Will work out a fair price. mkachmar@stny.rr.com

  23. Salvatore Buttaci on March 25th, 2011 8:27 am

    Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, in the mid 40s, I was fortunate to have heard many of Nicola Paone songs. My father brought home a new record each Friday (Crosby, Paone, etc.) and we’d play it on our vicrola.

    Years later in the 80s I met Nicola at his restaurant and we remained friends until he passed away. When my father died in 1987, he wrote me a condolence letter I hold dearly. Paone was a prince of a man and a great talent. I can still hear him singing, “Mr. Police-a man, that isa my gell, you cannota put me in jail!”

    Salvatore Buttaci, author of Flashing My Shorts

  24. Joe Ricottone on January 4th, 2012 5:08 pm

    I have been told Nicola Paeone sang a song ,which may be called Bedda California. It is sung in the Sicilian Dialect and is about , people selling everything and moving to a better life in California .
    If anyone is aware of this and can provide me with the lyrics or a copy of the song itself ,please let me know

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