Browse all

The first three women to win Sanremo

Nilla Pizzi, Iva Zanicchi and Gilda

The first three women to win Sanremo Nilla Pizzi, Iva Zanicchi and Gilda

Let's go back in time. It's 1951 and Italy is in the middle of the post-war period. When someone, feeling the desire for lightness in the air, decided to move a music festival from Viareggio to Sanremo and to broadcast the competition on the radio inside the casino in the Ligurian city. Thus the first Sanremo Festival was born. In the first edition of the Festival there were three competitors and the winner was Nilla Pizzi with Grazie dei fiori. We had to wait almost twenty years to find another solo woman at the top of the podium, when in 1974 Iva Zanicchi triumphed with Ciao cara come stai?, followed in 1975 by Gilda. Each with their own sound and style made a small revolution, contributing to crowning the Ariston stage as the place to be for Italian music. Nilla, Iva and Gilda helped dream up a country that was recovering from the war and, above all, they inspired a generation of strong women who, armed only with their talent and passion for singing, to made their voices heard in an Italy that was still strongly patriarchal. 

Let's find out who the three singers were who were the first to win the Festival, impressing light-hearted catchphrases on the minds of a country just emerging from one of its darkest periods. 


Nilla Pizzi

Nilla Pizzi is a record woman.  She won the first edition of the Festival and the following year she did it again, winning the first, second and third place. Her songs have titles similar to children's nursery rhymes (Papaveri e papere or Vola colomba), but conceal references to themes that were considered thorny at the time, such as inequality of power, which led to her being censored. For her love, the first Sanremo brawl broke out (between singers Gino Latilla and Cinico Angelini), the first Italian fan club was founded for her and the "cartoNille", facsimile postcards with various images of Pizzi, became a must-have. Above all, as someone pointed out, she was "the first heroine to make the wheels of a phallocentric musical world grind to a halt", paving the way for the following generations of musicians and Sanremo winners. 

"I was born in 1951, with the Sanremo Festival. Before that I didn't exist."

Nilla often said this, forgetting that, in a way, even the reverse is true, because without her the Festival would not be what it is today.


Iva Zanicchi 

Iva Zanicchi was the second female soloist to reach the top of the charts in 1974 (although she had already won in 1967 and 1969 with Claudio Villa and Bobby Solo). For her and her bluesy voice, the leap from the dance halls of Romagna to the top of Sanremo and the charts, to Madison Square Garden in New York, was a short one. But music was not enough for Iva, and in the following decades, she focus also to theatre, TV  (Do you remember the 1980s show Ok, il prezzo è giusto?) and politics.



After Zanicchi, the Festival title went to Gilda with Ragazza del Sud, a true one-hit-wonder that  is almost an apology for the idea of a woman as the angel of the home. Shortly after this success, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter decided to retire from the stage and devote herself to her family and running a hotel. She later returned to perform at local events in Piedmont, but her career has been a downward spiral, and she has recently been involved in a series of legal troubles.