Who was Pietro Ognibene? He was a great discoverer! No, he didn’t discover lands or the cure for anything. He discovered something even better; he discovered Piero Barone!
On Tuesday we awoke to the news that Pietro Ognibene, Piero’s grandfather had passed away. When we heard the news, we immediately felt the loss because he is a man we are all familiar with and he played an important role in Piero’s life. In fact, Piero would probably not be a singer today if it had not been for this man.
When I write about the guys I always like going back to their childhood and read about all their beautiful experiences. Their stories are so rich, so full of life.
In order to tell this story properly, I should start by saying this story, in fact, the story of all the guys, is so unique because unlike any other entertainers in the world these three men share their lives and their families with us.
In their book, “Un’avventure straordinaria, la nostra storia,” there are stories about how each one was discovered. But Piero’s discovery story is more than that, it is Piero’s story about his grandfather.
Pietro was married to Rina. Rina and Pietro are the mother and father of Elenora Ognibene, Piero’s mother. They are the maternal grandmother and grandfather of Francesco, Piero and Mariagrazia.
In this video we find Pietro Ognibene and a very young Piero Barone accompanied by the choir.
These were the remarks that went along with this video:
Piero grew up breathing deeply the musical environment that has surrounded him since the age of 5: it was his grandfather Pietro Ognibene who discovered his talent and Piero recalls in a 2010 interview that his grandfather, blind since before his was born, had written a song in Sicilian dialect and asked him to perform it. His grandfather was struck by his voice.
On that same day, helped by a friend, Pietro Ognibene recorded Piero singing “Un Amore Così Grande.” In an interview Mr. Ognibene declared that all their fellow villagers were enchanted by Piero’s voice and, therefore, he had made it a habit of making him get on a table, used as a stage, to sing. Later the Barone family helped Piero cultivate his gift. His grandfather contributed by paying for his piano lessons for six years. Piero Barone from a small stage has conquered the world. Pride for the real Naresi!
So, now, I will let Piero tell the story of this great man his grandpa! The man who discovered Piero Barone….
My grandfather lost his sight when he was forty-five and since then he began to cultivate a great passion for music.
If I think back of the first image I have of my grandfather, I see him sitting on the terrace in the country with a stereo in his hand. A small stereo that worked with cassettes.
Alone he would sing, compose and record songs on the stereo. He was the first real family celebrity in Naro. He listened to the radio, he composed poems and recorded the verses on the cassettes. Always sitting on his terrace there in the countryside.
Picture this, in front of the terrace there was a typical swing from the past hanging from a mulberry tree. One morning, my grandfather sat in a cool place on the terrace with his faithful stereo next to him. He enjoyed the peace of the countryside. And, then he sang a song that I believe, he had made up: ‘E lu suli talia, talia, talia. Sopra ‘sta petra luci ci duna,’ that is ‘And the sun, look, look, look, to this stone gives the light.’
I was swinging on the swing, I was about four or five years old, I was really, very, small. I listened to him a little and at a certain point, when he stops singing, I started: “E lu suli, talia, talia, talia. Sopra ‘sta pedra luci ci duna”.
What can I tell you? It just came out like that. My grandfather turned off the recorder and stood there on the balcony: imagine the terrace and the swing right there in front of you and he says loudly to my grandmother:
‘Rina, veni ca’ (Rina come here)
‘Chi è Pitri?’ (What do you want Pietro?)
‘Unni è Piero?’ (Where is Piero?)
‘In altalena’ (On the swing)
‘Ma cu cantava? Iddru?’ (But who was singing? He?)
‘Eh, sì.’ (Yes)
‘Chiamalo’ (Call him)
I got up and went to my grandpa, he lifted me up, put me on the table next to the recorder and told me: “Sing the song again.” And I, without repeating it twice, I sang the song as he had sung it. He listens to me. He thought a bit and then he says: this afternoon we go to ‘Nto’Nto, that is Antonio. He is a friend of my grandfather who shares a passion for music with him. At his home he has what we called at that time a ‘recording studio.’ The means were not very powerful, but we did what we could with a bigger stereo and a microphone. So, we went to Antonio and my grandfather made me record his song in Sicilian. Not only that, but the next day also we went to the countryside to the Riolo house. As I have already told you, there was a good relationship between my grandfather and Mr. Riolo, because my grandfather had worked for him in the past. So, we go to the Riolo (house), and we talked, sitting under the carob tree because there is always fresh under those trees. They chatted and I, in the meantime, ate prickly pears.
‘You know, Mimmo’ says my grandfather to Mr. Riolo, ‘yesterday I discovered that my grandson has a nice voice.’
So, Mr. Riolo has an idea: ‘I want him to listen to one of my favorite voices.’ This is how I listened for the first time to ‘Un Amore Cosi’ Grande’ by Mario del Monaco. And I learned it right away, but right away. I cannot explain how. Grandfather was very proud. Something told me that the next day we would go to record ‘Un Amore Cosi’ Grande’ da ‘Nto’Nto.
Another beautiful thing that happened in the countryside was every evening at dinner the whole family gathered. During the winter we had this meeting only on Sundays, but during the summer every night. My family which I refer is as follows: mom and dad with me and my brothe and my sister, my grandfather, my grandmother and my uncle, my great-grandmother, my grandmother’s sister, her husband and their three children, who are the same age as us and for me they are like another brother and two other sisters. We all dined together, then we played soccer while the adults sat outside chatting and enjoying the cool of the terrace. At the table everyone had his ‘place,’ or rather, almost all: my grandfather Pietro at the head of the table, on his right my father, on the left my uncle, my mother’s brother, and then from there down the rest of the family in random order.
The day after our visit to the Riolo and my discovery of Mario del Monaco we went back to ‘Nto’Nto to record ‘Un Amore Così Grande.’ In the evening my grandfather was sitting at the head of the table, as usual. An evening like many others, quiet, in the family. When we finished dinner, even before the table was cleared, my grandfather says. ‘Rina, get the recorder.’
Grandma takes the recorder and puts it in front of him. He had already prepared the cassette. He turns to my dad and says, ‘Listen to this voice, Gaetano.’ He pushes PLAY and starts my recording of ‘Un Amore Così Grande.’ My father makes a face. He is amazed, like he has just heard a good thing, and says, ‘It’s beautiful, who is it Daddy?’ (he calls my grandfather Daddy even though he is my mother’s father).
‘How did Piero?’
From that day in some way my father changed his life, for him I have become a priority.
Since then, he started taking me to the first festivals, but I was too young. We understood that I needed to ‘put a base,’ because the voice alone was not enough. Then Dad asked himself: ‘What must Piero start to do?’ And the answer was: ‘Piero must start playing the piano.’
When dad thought I could take piano lessons, I was four or five years old. When I actually started, I was eight or nine. In those four years between the cassette with the recording of ‘Un Amore Così Grande’ and my first time sitting at the keyboard of a piano, in practice who took care of my ‘musical education,’ my grandfather.
As I told you, my grandfather had a great passion for music, composed songs in dialect and is a popular singer of popular music in the country. In Naro there are many folk groups because it was the capital of the Almond Blossom Festival, which today is still celebrated but with the name of Primavera Narese. Keeping this traditional festival alive meant keeping alive the musical tradition of folk groups. So many guys are singing in these groups, and I was singing too. That’s how I started, learning the songs of Sicilian folklore.
So, I began to study piano at the age of eight, but there are two things. First of all, my father really wanted me to train musically in a serious way starting from the piano, but economically we could not afford the costs of the lessons and the purchase of the plan. It was my grandfather who paid for everything, and not just from the material point of view. Yes, because every Monday it was he who accompanied me to class. Stefano Tesè, my first piano teacher, lived right under his house. Or rather, the mother of the teacher Tesè lived in the floor below my grandfather’s house and the master came to see her every Monday from Realmonte, a town thirty kilometers from Naro. Taking advantage of the visit, he had agreed to give me lessons. So, every Monday at six I showed up at his door.
The road was very short to my grandfather’s house, I could even go there alone, but here is the second thing, to get there I had to face a dog that was going around in that area, that dog approached and began to bark furiously. And I have a fear of dogs. Squeezed under my grandfather’s arm, he who being blind and needed to be guided, I felt protected as behind a shield: when the dog approached, he shouted: ‘Passa arrassu!’ (fast pass), go away, and the dog went away.
I confess there is a third thing. Besides the nightmare of the dog, every Monday six in the afternoon was a nightmare for me, because I did not like going to the piano lesson. Or rather, I liked it only when the lessons were good, when I could play, but at the beginning I was bored a lot with the hammers, solfeggios and all the things that you rightly have to learn to play the piano. Maestro Tesè, then, was a tough guy and I was always worried that he would scold me.
After a while I started to understand how the piano worked and the lessons started to please me.
Isn’t it funny that we have heard this story so many times before but today it has such a deep meaning?
Pietro Ognibene (Nonno Pietro) singing the Ave Maria accompanied by Piero.
In this video, Piero has a great surprise.
Let’s hope dreams come true in life, and you did it. If you look to your right, there is your grandfather and grandmother. Your grandfather Pietro.”
Massimo Giletti comments:This is a moment that you live alone, good morning. (greeting Piero’s Grandparents) Here it is an embrace from his grandfather who passed on the passion of life to him: the music.
Piero: I’m speechless.
Massimo:We also made a gift to you. (Pietro)
Massimo: You have never experienced the thrill of a live concert and we are not giving it to you today. But when you heard him singing ~ he was little and you understood that he had something more.
Pietro: Always, always I believe in him. But I have always told him it is difficult to fly high, but it is easy to be on the ground. Be careful what you do, and always walk in your footsteps.
Massimo: But he (Piero) said: with the family that I have I will always kept the balance.
Pietro: Because the tree has been cultivated since it was small.
Massimo: And you have cultivated it well.
Pietro: We have cultivated it well, but I always say to all my grandchildren: Be careful because facing the door, when you leave the house there is the stepmother (understood as a bad thing, bad company).
Massimo:But we are strong, and he (Piero) is young, he will keep the honor of the family high.
Look at how excited Piero is and how proud his grandfather is of him!
Many times when Piero was in concert at Taormina, his grandfather would be there and even when he wasn’t there, he always took the time to thank his grandfather for all he did for him.
The first time Mr. Ognibene heard Piero sing, he vowed he would do everything in his power to make his phenomenal voice heard, and so it is that we hear that voice today.
Thanks to Mr. Ognibene for recognizing it. He was truly The Man Behind The Man and I know Piero will never forget what he did for him.
A couple of months ago I wrote a story about Piero called “The Man has a Dream.” Piero, as you know, dreams that one day, he will be an opera singer. Without Pietro Ognibene, this dream would not be possible!
My story would not be complete without a final farewell from Piero. What better way to send Pietro Ognibene to Heaven than with the Ave Maria!
Italians believe if you die on the feast day of Our Lady, it is a special privilege. Our Lady will come to meet you and take you home! Pietro Ognibene went to his final rest on Ferragosto the feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. I’m sure Our Lady met him and his reward in Heaven will be great! Rest in Peace, Nonno Pietro.
Piero’s Final Farewell to his grandfather.
This is for all the times I turned, and you were close to me.
For all the stages I went up hoping to find you underneath listening to me.
For all the days when I couldn’t, and you made me find the strength to continue.
For all the joys we have shared and the hardships we have shared.
Because even if it seems incredible, it was you who showed me that all of this really could come true!
This was the announcement on August 16th in Quotidiano Nazionale
Piero Barone’s grandfather died. It was he who paid for his grandsons singing studies
The singer of “Il Volo”, Piero Barone, loses a great point of reference: grandfather, Pietro Ognibene has died. It is by his will that the singer has been studying singing since childhood, allowing him to realize his dream, paying his singing lessons since he was a child, taking him by the hand and accompanying him from an early age on stage. Grandfather Pietro was well known and esteemed to Naro who mourns him and remembers him with immense affection as “a great man and grandfather who left an immense legacy.”
One final note: I want to thank Alessandra and Stefi for their help in preparing the pictures. I also want to thank Daniela for helping me with the translations.
Credit to the owners of photos and videos.
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