South Pasadena’s Troubadour

Rocco Fills Our Neighborhoods With Song

Rocco Abbondanza, 74, takes frequent walks in his neighborhood near Mission Street and Meridian Avenue.

As he does, he serenades people living nearby and those walking along the street. Easily heard from both inside buildings and out, he has a sonorous, heartwarming voice. 

His regular route includes the sidewalks around the library and along Mission Street, El Centro Street, Fair Oaks Avenue and Monterey Road. He walks five to six miles.

Abbondanza said he performs up to 50 songs entirely by memory. He sings the Italian “O Sole Mio” and “Cuando Calienta El Sol” in Spanish. He also chooses operatic and patriotic numbers. The titles vary with the season and the holiday.

Many love songs are included. One is “Bésame Mucho.”

He said he has donated two CDs of his songs to the South Pasadena Public Library. He hopes to have them available for check out. He also said he has sold one CD, “The Best Songs of Rocco.”

Abbondanza said he has no training as a singer. He does not read music. He had never sung in public before he began singing on South Pasadena’s streets.

“An angel came to me more than six years ago in a dream and told me I had to do something different,” he said. “‘You can start singing,’ the angel said.” 

  “I sing to forget my problems,” he said.

Abbondanza, who was born in Italy, said his mother died of a tumor when he was two years old. His father remarried within six months. His older sister acted like a mother to him. She even accompanied him when he traveled as a young adult to Milan to work as an electrician. She, too, died young. 

Abbondanza came to Los Angeles in 1966, after his sister died. His lived with his older brother, who was living on Figueroa Street. The new immigrant learned English but was unable to obtain a license to work as an electrician. Thus, he took other positions.

Some years later, Abbondanza returned to Italy and brought back a bride. They had two children and settled down in the area.

He continued to experience the tragedy of early death. “My wife had cancer,” he said. “I took her to chemotherapy every day. She died 21 years ago at 51.”

“Sometimes I don’t feel like doing anything,” he said, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, “and sometimes I cry.” 

“But,” he added, “I push myself.”

Once he begins singing, his sadness disappears, he said.

Sharing music also provides a way for him to interact with others. “Through singing, I’ve met many friends,” he said. “They like me. They like my songs.”

He is often seen conversing with people along his route. Some know him. Others are strangers. Many have their spirits lifted by his unique gift.