The history of “Dominick the Donkey” is steeped in rich Italian American history. While the novelty holiday song may not be as storied an example of Italian American culture as a good cannoli or The Godfather, there is no doubt the catchy jingle has carved itself a niche among loyal fans, especially those hailing from northern New Jersey.
Lou Monte, a native of Lyndhurst, NJ, originally recorded “Dominick the Donkey” in 1960. The song was initially popular among Italian Americans who lived in the Garden State. But it wasn't necessarily a radio hit until 2011, when, four decades after its original conception, producers at the BBC pushed a revival of the song.
"Dominick the Donkey" has a fascinating backstory that belies its charming lyrics, though, including the alleged rumor that “Dominick” was financed by the mob in the name of Italian American pride. Not familiar with the holiday earworm? Give it a chance and add "Dominick" to your favorite Christmas songs mix. You may find yourself involuntarily singing, “Hey, chingedy ching, hee haw, hee haw, it's Dominick, the donkey.”
The Song Allegedly Has Ties To A Certain Syndicate
There is a rumor that 'made men' financed the studio recording for "Dominick the Donkey." It's alleged that the infamous Gambino family put the money up to get the Italian-themed song out to the public.
It would not be the first time that an Italian American crooner had such speculative ties. Famed FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover spent years trying to link Frank Sinatra to the syndicate. Sinatra denied having any connections. While Hoover had plenty of evidence that Sinatra had friendships with known members, there was never any concrete proof that the "My Way" singer ever acted similarly to his associates.
The Lyrics Include Italian Phrases And SlangVideo: YouTube
The premise of the Christmas jingle is that Dominick the Donkey helps Santa deliver presents - made in Brooklyn - to kids in Italy.
As the lyrics explain:
Santa's got a little friend his name is Dominick
The cutest little donkey, you never see him kick
When Santa visits his Paesans with Dominick he'll be
Because the reindeer cannot climb the hills of Italy...
Children sing and clap their hands and Dominick starts to dance
They talk Italian to him and he even understands
Cummares and Cumpares
Do the dance a tarentel
When Santa Nicola
Comes to town and brings il ciucciariello
Lou Monte Became 'The Godfather Of Italian Humor'
After Lou Monte served in WWII, he returned to Lyndhurst, NJ, and got a gig hosting an AM radio show out of Newark. Monte incorporated a variety show format to his airtime; he would crack jokes about being raised in an Italian family and sing funny songs. He eventually started working the New York and New Jersey comedy club scene and became an Italian American popular culture hero.
Monte earned the monikers "The Godfather of Italian Humor" and "The King of Italian-American Music."
The Song Celebrates Italian American Pride
In 1960, John F. Kennedy hit the national spotlight and started his presidential campaign. The Irish Catholic came along at the perfect time: it was the emergence of the Civil Rights movement and an era in American history in which ethnicity was something of which to be proud.
Lou Monte's career also materialized at the exact right time in American history. His singalong-filled comedy act appealed to Italian Americans, who could understand all of the inside Italian gags and comfortably revel in Monte's national pride.
Many Italian Americans experienced legislated and social ostracization in American society during the early 20th century, but Monte's presence brought a humorous spotlight to the group's heritage and history.