The South Philly Serenade: Honoring An Italian Tradition

Published in the Delaware County Daily Times                                        March 15, 2019

By Joseph Batory, Times Columnist male vocalist

More than 50 years ago, I resided with my family in Southwest Philadelphia. The neighborhood was predominantly Italian surrounding Our Lady of Loretto Church at 62nd and Grays Avenue.

One of my closest friends in this neighborhood was Vince. Sometime in the 1960’s, Vince announced that he was going be married to Rosemary who lived just a few miles away in another very Italian part of South Philadelphia.

The night before the wedding, I thought that Vince and I would privately celebrate the upcoming wedding at some area “gin mill.” BUT…Vince insisted that we had to go the house of the bride to be. I did not understand any of this but we travelled the short distance to South Philly.

When we arrived at the row house street of the bride to be, I was surprised to find all of Rosemary’s neighbors gathered outside in front of her home. As this crowd of neighbors watched, Vince rang the doorbell at or her home. Rosemary’s smiling mother answered the door with her daughter right behind her.

What happened next was mind-boggling. Vince began crooning a myriad of love songs, each applauded by the watchful neighbors. What followed was a street celebration with pizza and beer and happiness abounding.

Later that evening, Vince explained that I had just witnessed an Italian tradition (The Serenade) whereby on the night before the wedding there is a custom for the groom to perform a serenade “under the window of his bride.” Some Italians will tell you—perhaps exaggerating a bit— that the rules for The Serenade are that the groom must sing well in order for the wedding to take place the next day.   Well, whatever the case, Vince sang well enough and there was a beautiful wedding ceremony and reception the next day.

Over the years, I have told this story to many people, some of whom have been skeptical, even disbelieving. As for me, I know what I saw so many years ago but I never expected to see another serenade.

Then, just a year or so ago, a young Italian-American friend, Jason, from South Philadelphia was about to be married. My wife and I had incessantly teased him about his having to do The Serenade. Jason was reluctant and resisted, but under our constant badgering, he finally agreed and prepared very seriously with three months of formal singing lessons.

On the night before the wedding, a section of Ritner Street in South Philadelphia was closed off by the police. Neighbors and friends and family gathered together and Jason sang a series of love songs to his intended wife who was seated in a large throne chair decorated with flowers. This was followed by a pizza and beer party and much celebration. Ironically, the family members of the bride were from outside of Philadelphia had to be pleasantly surprised, having never imagined that an event like The Serenade really happens.

Anyway, a gala wedding and reception took place the next day. To me this was like being in a time capsule. Something I had witnessed more than five decades ago had happened once again in South Philadelphia.

This was and is Italian and Philadelphia tradition at its best!!!!

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Joseph Batory, who grew up in Philadelphia, is the author of three books and numerous published articles.

 

 

 

 

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