To celebrate the return of Italy’s most famous song contest, we take a look at five singing sensations who’ve taken out the title throughout the years.

Nilla Pizzi

Adionilla Pizzi, widely known by her stage name Nilla Pizza, made history when she won the first ever edition of the Sanremo Music Festival in 1951, singing Grazie dei fiori.

She defended her title and won the competition in 1952, with the song Vola colomba.

The talented artist rose to fame in the ‘50s and ‘60s, releasing hits including Papaveri e papere, the original version of Poppa Piccolino by Diana Decker which reached number 2 on the UK singles chart in December 1953.

The song went on to be a worldwide hit and has been translated into 40 languages. 

Pizzi was born on April 16, 1919, in Sant’Agata Bolognese, in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, and died on March 12, 2011, aged 91.

Domenico Modugno

An Italian icon, Domenico Modugno won the Sanremo Music Festival four times throughout his career: in 1958 with the hit Nel blu dipinto di blu; in 1959 with Piove (Ciao, ciao bambina), in 1962 singing Addio, addio; and in 1966 with Dio, come ti amo.

Arguably his biggest hit was Nel blu dipinto di blu, also known as Volare, which became the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1st Annual Grammy Awards in 1958.

The song was later translated into several languages and recorded by a wide range of international performers.

Outside his musical career, Modugno was very active in politics: he supported the campaigns of the Italian Socialist Party and one for divorce, in addition to criticising the human rights violation by the regime of Augusto Pinochet, that cost him a denial of entry in Chile, where he had been scheduled to hold a concert.

In 1987, he became a member of the Italian Parliament for the liberal-social Radical Party.

Modugno was born on January 9, 1928, in the Apulian town of Polignano a Mare, and died on August 6, 1994, aged 66.

Adriano Celentano

Singer, actor and director Adriano Celentano is one of Italy’s most eminent performers.

Celentano won the Sanremo Music Festival in 1970, singing Chi non lavora non fa l’amore.

He became a pioneer of Italian pop and advocated for environmental issues with songs such as Il ragazzo della via Gluck, named after the street he was born on, and L’albero di 30 piani.

Early in his career, Celentano acquired the nickname “Molleggiato” (the flexible one) because of his unique style of dancing.

He was born in Milan on January 6, 1938, and at 82 years of age, he is still a prominent personality in Italy.

After 18 years without live performances, Celentano’s 2012 live concert was broadcast on Mediaset channel Canale 5, attracting over 9 million viewers.

Toto Cutugno

Salvatore “Toto” Cutugno won the Sanremo Music Festival in 1980, with the song Solo noi.

He also won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1990, singing Insieme: 1992, for which he wrote both the lyrics and music.

Aged 46 years, 302 days, Cutugno became the oldest winner of the contest to date, surpassing the record set by Andre Claveau in 1958.

Cutugno’s record stood until 2000.

Toto finished second in six editions of the Sanremo Music Festival: in 1984, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 2005.

He participated in the festival a total of 13 times.

Cotugno was born in the Tuscan town of Fosdinovo on July 7, 1943, and is still active in his career today, at the age of 76.


Emmanuela “Emma” Marrone, known professionally as Emma, won the Sanremo Music Festival in 2012, singing Non è l’inferno.

After working with several bands, she’d already won the Italian talent show Amici di Maria De Filippi in March 2010, and signed a contract with record label Universal Music.

Since 2010, she has released six solo studio albums, one extended play and 28 singles, selling more than 1.4 million records in Italy.

She also represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, with the song La mia città finishing 21st.

Emma was born in Florence on May 25, 1984, and now lives in Frascati, 20 kilometres south-east of Rome.

Her latest album, Fortuna, was released in October 2019.