Toto Cutugno: A Historic Career

8 min readMay 13, 2020


Cutugno as a younger man dressed in white with a blue undershirt and his classic haircut.

Toto Cutugno (Salvatore Cutugno) is an Italian singer-songwriter born in Tuscany. He is famous for iconic performances, unforgettable songs like “L’Italiano”, “Il Treno Va”, and “Buonanotte”, as well as meaningful lyrics.

He was born in a hilly town called Fosdinovo during World War Two. The town is home to the Medieval Festival of Fosdinovo in July and the Strength of the Smile Festival which is held in August. During Toto’s early years, his home region of Tuscany was the site of major fighting with the Americans.

On July 25th of 1943 when Toto was just over two weeks old, Mussolini was overthrown. By September of the same year, the Italians withdrew from their alliance with Nazi Germany and agreed to an armistice with the Allied Forces. German forces then invaded the country in an attempt to expel the Allied Forces but by 1945 the war was over and their forces withdrew north.

Soon, Toto and his family moved to the city of La Spezia in Liguria where his father worked as a naval marshal. La Spezia is a historic port city built in the 19th century which was important for trade and was crucial for the Italian navy. Toto Cutugno’s father was from the north of Sicily and his mother was from the mainland and was a housewife.

As a child growing up north of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Toto showed a love for music and was especially talented. He has short straight hair, a vintage haircut and fair skin, and dark brown eyes. Cutugno doesn’t smoke.

His father played trumpet and Cutugno taught himself how to play the drums at a young age. He had a strong relationship with his father, who encouraged him to continue practicing no matter what.

As a boy, Cutugno joined local music groups and performed as a drummer at nearby venues. Toto taught himself how to play the drums on his own without any help. Liguria was famous for its world-class music during the 19th century when its largest city Genoa aspired to gain cultural influence and wide acclaim throughout Europe.

The region is home to the Teatro Carlo Felice which is Genoa’s principal opera house. The theatre premiered Bellini’s Bianca e Fernando and Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo. The town of Sanremo in Liguria hosts the annual Sanremo Music Festival in which Cutugno would later part-take in.

At thirteen years of age, Cutugno started learning the accordion which was featured in his iconic song “Il Treno Va” when he held a concert on the Spanish Stairs in Rome. He later learned to play the piano, saxophone, melodica, and acoustic guitar featured in the official music video for his song “L’Italiano” filmed in Paris.

Cutugno had large success with the accordion and even came in third at a regional music competition in these early years of his career.

Toto played as a drummer for local music groups throughout Liguria with varying successes. At nineteen Cutugno joined the music group of Maestro Manusardi, who invited him on a six-month tour of Finland.

Manusardi is an Italian pianist born in Chiavenna in 1935 who also partnered with Cutugno’s record label Carosello Records to release his jazz albums. He is currently eighty-four years of age.

Although elements of jazz were used in Cutugno’s music he became a pop artist. After Cutugno returned to Italy, he started his own pop group which he called “Toto and the Tati.”

The group, founded in 1965, first partnered with a Milan-based record label called Interrecord to release “La Ragazza Della Spiaggia” written by Cutugno and Peppino Claudio Scaffidi who went by the stage name “Clasca”.

Cutugno performed as a drummer on this record which also featured “Il Rimpianto” and an exclusive record of “Un Momento E Poi” which was released later that year. Co-written with Nicola Aprile who later joined the group “Nicola Aprile E Il Suo Complesso” the record was available on vinyl only in Italy and versions of the record are still available for purchase today.

When the group was dissolved in 1970, Aprile left Interrecord and later Carosello to join another Milan-based label called “Combo” which dissolved in the 1990s. Aprile also worked with singer Silvano Franese to release two jazz records under the name “Che Twist!”.

After 1965, Cutugno and his group left their one-year partnership with Interrecord to join Carosello Records in 1970. Carosello declined participation in this publication. Drawing his inspiration from traditional Jamaican music, Cutugno released “Montego Bay” an experiment combining Reggae and Pop music to form a voice distinct from anything else available in Italy at the time.

Cutugno released two versions of “Questo Fragile Amore” the same year. With these records, Cutugno rose to fame in Italy and became known as a renowned composer. He spent his time songwriting for other artists and almost never performed his own music.

Cutugno married Carla Cutugno in 1971 and the couple has experienced many difficult times together. This includes the death of Toto’s sister Anna who suffocated, the illness and unwellness of his brother Roberto, and his sister Rosanna who had a heart operation in Turin.

In 1974, Toto joined the production of Vigevano-born lyricist Vito Pavalicini to produce his album “Africa” with the group “Albatros” which had great success in France. So much so, that Brooklyn-born French-American artist Joe Dassin invited him to record a version of the song “Africa” in French.

The song which would be called “L’ete Indien” would go on to gain wide acclaim internationally and elevate Dassin’s already magnificent status as a country and folk musician to a legend. After this experience with Dassin, Cutugno would continue to work with many notable European singers including Italian Adriano Celentano.

Dassin too got sucked into Toto’s magic and asked him to write another song for him. Toto contributed “Et si n’existais pa” and after that as an anonymous person who works for Cutugno said, “from that moment the requests multiplied: Toto wrote songs for Mireille Mathieu, Dalida, Johnny Halliday, Michel Sardou, Claude François, Hervé Vilard, Sheila in France, Domenico Modugno, Gigliola Cinquetti, Ornella Vanoni in Italy, his songs, as well as by these singers, are performed by large orchestras such as, F.Pourcel, Caravelli, and P. Mauriat.”

The following year, Cutugno performed at the Sanremo Music Festival near his hometown in La Spezia. The song called, “Volo AZ 504” came in third and featured Cutugno in a different light. In the song, Cutugno acted as an activist against abortion.

In editor Enrico Minardi’s book, “The Last Forty Years of Italian Pop Culture”, he claims Toto Cutugno’s opinion on the subject is disgusting. “If I was bound to compile a list of the worst Italian songs ever written and performed the award would go to Volo.”

Minardi continues, “The metaphor of flight is displayed in all its power: to fly away, to leave each other is not only a real fact but an intrinsic condition of that woman, eager to see that immense ‘sky’ of love and take advantage of it. This kind of ‘easy girl’ typical of the seventies, provided for a surrogate (and false) image of the feminist movement, that was acceptable to the average Italian man.”

Regardless of your opinion on the subject, it is clear to everyone that when Cutugno has something to say he doesn’t hold back. It is also clear that Cutugno always has something to say and there is always meaning behind his words which is not typical of that of, “the average Italian man.”

After his success at Sanremo, Toto continued writing with “Albatros” and composed “Nel Cuore, Nel Sensi” in 1976. The song was picked up and recorded by Gerard Lenorman in France. By 1977, the group appeared in the Sanremo Festival again with Cutugno’s new song “Grand Prix” which took fifth place.

The following year, Toto left the music group he had joined at the beginning of the decade to write “Soli” Adriano Celentano’s iconic song. The song premiered on the Italian television program “Scommettiamo” and became a hit song in Italy as well as internationally.

The year 1980 perhaps was one of the best for Cutugno’s career. He came first at Sanremo with “Solo Noi”, first at the Yamaha Song Festival in Tokyo, and first at Festivalbar which is a (now defunct) music festival held at different piazzas across Italy.

That year, Cutugno also wrote all the songs on Adriano Celentano’s Long Play “Il Tempo Se Ne Va.” The following year, Cutugno released another LP which he called “Mi Musica.”

In 1983, Cutugno released his most famous single “L’Italiano” which gained him an audience in “unthinkable countries” including the Soviet Union, Korea, Iran, and Israel.

A Russian pianist who lived in the Soviet Union when Cutugno’s fan base grew from a family to an army says, “He was coming for a concert in Moscow, I think the year was ’83 and my daughter loved his music and even started to learn the Italian language. I was teaching music. My daughter really wanted to go to the concert but we couldn’t find the tickets since the show was sold out. In my music school, I taught a boy whose mother worked as a cashier in a theatre. She sold me two tickets for fifty rubles. That was very expensive and was almost the whole of my salary. I gave away one ticket to my daughter’s friend and worked for that boy whose mother sold me tickets for free for several months to recoup the purchasing price of the tickets. Nothing could make me happier than my daughter enjoying the show.”

The same year the song was released it was covered by Finnish singer Karia who renamed it to “I’m a Finn”. Then Indian music duo Sanjeev-Darshan, Israeli artist Doron Mazar, French music group The Gypsy Queens, Brazillian singer Jose Augusto and Austrian singer Patrizio Buanne followed suit.

The following year (1984), Cutugno finished second in Sanremo with “Serenata”. The song about Cutugno’s love for a woman, Carla, I suspect, was another international hit. By 1986, Cutugno already grabbed an award naming “L’Italiano” as the best selling album in the world released in the past five years.

In 1987, Cutugno took part in Sanremo as a songwriter releasing his song “Figli”, and the following year Cutugno released his hit “Emozioni”. He also wrote songs for Fausto Leali, Richi and Poveri, Peppino De Capri, and Franco Califono and released “Mediterraneo” which was his third album chronologically.

He became the conductor of an Italian television program which earned him more success. In 1989, Toto had a son; Nicolo or Nico from a separate relationship. Cutugno says his wife could’ve easily kicked him out of the house but instead, she encouraged Toto to have a relationship with his son as Toto did. Nico is thirty-one years old and has a degree in economics.

He also released “Le Mamme” about his love for his mother and came in second with it at Sanremo. The following year Cutugno came in second at Sanremo again with his hit “Gli Amori”.

Toto won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1990 and hosted the Eurofestival in Rome the following year. He conducted and performed on more television programs and released another LP in 1992 and returned to Sanremo in both 1995 and 1997. He held a world tour in the 2000s and later performed throughout Europe and Russia.




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