Retro songstress Vanessa Racci

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A natural-born performer, Vanessa Racci abandoned a career in marketing to dedicate herself full time to rekindling the flame of classic Italian-American music.

Imagine taking the swinging, glamorous Italian-American singers of the mid-20th century — Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Louis Prima — and distilling their essence for the 21st-century stage. Vanessa Racci does exactly that in her performances, bringing the music of these icons to life for a new generation.

As a child, Racci soaked up the Italian-American music enjoyed by her grandfather. By age 4, her parents encouraged her to sing when they had company over. By age 12, she was doing professional musical theater.

As an adult, she realized that what her Italian-American idols were singing was actually jazz. She also discovered the deep connections Italian Americans have with the genre, which is rooted in the fact that Italian Americans lived near African Americans in New Orleans in the early 20th century and absorbed their music.

She has developed performances that tell the story of the Italian jazz connection — from the genre’s first-ever recording, produced by Nick LaRocca in 1917, to the swinging LPs of Frank Sinatra decades later.

Racci studied marketing in college, which helped when she quit her corporate job last April to become a full-time performer. Her retro-cool brand includes a glamorous 1950s look with fitted-bodice, full-skirted dresses and a stylish wavy bob.

She has an album out and another on the way, several shows and a strong online presence. She also performs at music venues and Italian-American festivals across the country.

Racci, who lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband, discussed why she wants to continue channeling the music of the Italian-American greats.


Fra Noi: How did you develop your love for Italian-American music?

Racci: It was at an early age, without really realizing it. My grandfather, Frank Prisciantelli, was born and raised in Harlem in the early 1900s, when it was a center for Italian-American culture. He later lived in the basement apartment with the rest of the family living on the top two floors (of a two-flat) in Westchester County. My grandmother died when I was 4, but I had the opportunity to develop a close relationship with my grandfather, who was my mom’s dad.

My grandfather was influential in my life — he picked us up from school, he babysat us, and he would play Dean Martin, Connie Francis, Frank Sinatra, Lou Monte, Louis Prima, so I grew up knowing these singers and songs.

Fra Noi: How did you begin singing?

Racci: I grew up singing ever since I can remember. Starting at about age 4, my parents had me sing for family parties. I just loved to get up and sing for people. I was a natural ham.

My parents enrolled me in professional theater, so I did off-Broadway performances at Westchester Broadway dinner theater [Is this a proper noun?], and I got paid to perform at 12 years old.

I went on to do lots of musical theater and won a Helen Hayes Award when I was 18. It’s like the Tonys for New York state musical theater.

Fra Noi: What happened as you grew older?

Racci: My parents pushed me to get a degree in marketing because they perceived it was more practical. But I always studied music, like private singing, piano and theater lessons.

I wound up working at an advertising agency, but something was missing. I wanted to continue music. So I formed a jazz band and toured in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for four years.

Through learning a repertoire of jazz standards, I realized a lot of the songs my grandfather played were jazz. I hadn’t realized what jazz was.

I wanted to make my mark on the industry in some way. After he passed, I was inspired to keep Italian music alive.

Fra Noi: About what percentage of your singing caters to an Italian-American audience?

Racci: I mostly do Italian-American performances.

My first album was “Italiana Fresca,” in which I reinvented the songs Grandpa taught me with fresh jazz arrangements. I’ve performed it at 70 festivals, from 2017 on, across the United States — Florida, California, New Orleans, Chicago, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — all the places where Italians are.

I reached No. 65 on the jazz charts; I’ve been played in over 81 countries on Spotify, with 16,000 streams and 7,200 listeners.

I have a new project. I was performing at the Kenner Italian Festival in New Orleans, and I went to museums and learned how much Italian Americans influenced jazz. The first recorded jazz song in history in the United States was by Nick LaRocca. Italian Americans, specifically Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans, lived and worked in the same areas as African Americans. Jazz started in New Orleans in the Black population in the early 1900s, but Italian Americans performed in bands with African Americans. That’s why Italian Americans are so steeped in jazz.

I put a stage show together on the history of Italian influence on jazz and launched it at the Birdland Jazz Club in Manhattan. I started with the LaRocca song, then told the story of how Italian Americans started in jazz and then came up to Chicago.

Fra Noi: It seems like you are creating visuals, via your wardrobe, hairstyling and photo styling, to recreate the glamour of the 1940s and ’50s. Is that something you do intentionally?

Racci: Absolutely. I do all my own marketing. That came from working at an ad agency and also as a marketing exec at Pepsico. I just left in April 2021 to pursue music full time.

I’m performing, producing. I teach voice to students and also have a marketing consultancy where I use what I’ve learned from large companies to help artists develop their businesses.

Fra Noi: What do you hope to accomplish in 2022?

Racci: Record and launch my new album, perform shows at Italian fests, jazz clubs and events across the county. I have a whole roster of shows.

One is “Forbidden Love,” the love story of Connie Francis and Bobby Darin. I’m selling that show (to producers who book entertainment) as well as the show on the history of Italian-American jazz. I also do a jazz Valentine’s show, a Christmas show and an “Ode to Gershwin” show.

Some people are booking for this year, but some are hesitant due to COVID.

It’s still busy if you are creative. For example, the Italian American Women’s Center of New York City hired me to do a performance and lecture on Italian Americans and the history of jazz.

I’ve also done virtual shows, like a performance for the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. And I do virtual performances from home.

Fra Noi: When are you coming to Chicago?

Racci: I don’t know. Normally, I perform at the Rockford Italian-American festival, but they canceled it the last two years.

To learn more, click here.

To sign up for Racci’s mailing list, follow her on social media, or book a live or virtual show, visit To support the production of her second album, click here.

The above appears in the May 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Pam DeFiglio

A lifelong writer. Pam DeFiglio works as an editor at the Chicago Tribune Media Group/Pioneer Press. She has won two Chicago Headline Club awards for previous work as an editorial writer and features writer at the Daily Herald. She also won National Federation of Press Women awards for Chicago Tribune news features on immigrants, and has worked in public relations at a university. She loves Italy and all things Italian, thanks to Nanna and a magnificent college year in Rome. She's grateful for all the people working to celebrate Italian culture in Chicago. Contact her at

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