Ep1- Memphis Italians Part I

Today’s inaugural episode will reveal the long and varied history of the first Italians to call Memphis home. Did you know the first Italians came over in 1836 directly from Italy and started some of Memphis’ first businesses? We’ll talk about where they lived, what businesses they ran and how we still see their mark on our city to this very day.

Our guests for this show are a who’s who of Memphis Italian families.

John Robilio
John is a lifelong Memphian. He graduated in 1968 from Memphis State with a degree in history, immediately started teaching at Christian Brothers High School and received his Masters in History in 1971.

John was on the 1972 committee to re-elect the President and worked in PR and advertising until 1979 when he joined the family business and was an executive at the Victor L Robilio company.

He’s an expert on the second world war focusing on the study of the Axis of powers made up by Germany, Japan and Italy. He’s a published historian and currently working on a study of Fascist Italy in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.

Mike Vanelli

Mike is a second generation Italian American whose grandparents on both sides came from the Tuscany region of Italy. He was born and raised in Memphis and attended parochial schools. Went to work for Big John Grisanti while he was a Sophomore in high school then after graduating served in the Navy on both active duty and in the naval reserves.

Went back to work for Big John while attending State Tech and Memphis State where he graduated and began work with Holiday Inns and then Fedex where he retired back in 2014.

He’s a charter member and past president of Memphis chapter of UNICO National Italian American Service Organization, past president of the Memphis Italian Society and a current Member of the Knights of Columbus.

Mike currently works as transportation/ logistics consultant and lives in Middleton TN.

Drew Canale

Drew Canale was born in Memphis attended Christian Brothers High School, Graduated Memphis State, Magna Cum Laude in ’79 and the Law school there in 1981.

Practiced law with Gerber, Gerber & Agee from 81-87 and in 1987 founded Canale Farms where he has since that time served as its president. Canale Farms is located in beautiful Oakland TN.

Show Notes & Links

This show was recorded in the Memphis & Shelby County Room at the Benjamin L Hooks Central Library. We appreciate their hospitality and the leadership of Wayne Dowdy and his wonderful staff.

Memphis Bocce Club (established as part of the Memphis Italian American Society )

Research team: Joe V Lowry, Drew Canale, Mike Vanelli 
Moderator: John Robilio
Editor: Trish Gully
Producer: Mark White 

3 thoughts on “Ep1- Memphis Italians Part I

  1. I am a lecturer at the University of Florence, looking for news on the Pacini, Bartolomei, Maffei, Bertagna, Bartolomei, Pierotti families who emigrated to Memphys (Shelby County) from Valdottavo, Lucca, Italy. Thank you so much and best regards

  2. My name is Terrence Donati. My ancestors consist of the the following families:Donati(Partigliano),Bartolomei(Pieghaio),Meconi and Andreuccetti(Valdottavo). The Donati and the Meconi families immigrated to Memphis on or before 1920. As a matter of information, Partigliano is a neighboring town of Valdottavo. I have more information to give, if you are interested.

  3. I am so glad to find this podcast! My great-grandfather came to Memphis in 1917 from Bassignana. I found on the census that he was a fruit picker…listening to this made it make more sense! Thank you for this extremely enlightening talk.

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