His parents gave him the name "Claudio" in honor of Claudio Serio. Many songs made famous by Villa, like "'A Tazza 'E Cafe'," were recorded for the Fonit Cetra label.
Villa died in 1987; on his gravestone are the words "Vita sei bella, morte fai schifo" ("Life, you are fine; death, you stink").
Together with Domenico Modugno Villa holds the record for the most wins at the Sanremo Music Festival, where he won the competition in 1955, 1957, 1962 and 1967. In 1963 he won the Festival di Napoli with the song "Jamme ja". He also sang at another Italian music competition, Canzonissima, a television event shown on RAI from 1956 to 1974. He won Canzonissima in 1964 with "O sole mio" and in 1966 with "Granada". He competed in the Eurovision Song Contest: in 1962 he sang "Addio, addio" and came in ninth; in 1967 he sang "Non andare più lontano", finishing eleventh.
His death in 1987 by a heart attack was announced live by host Pippo Baudo during the last night of that year's Sanremo Festival. His tomb, surrounded by bas-relief and wall-paintings made in occasion of 20th anniversary of death, is located in San Sebastiano cemetery in Rocca di Papa, near Rome, where he lived for many years with his family.
The singer was largely unknown in North America until the 1996 film Big Night was released, co-directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. The film won international acclaim. The soundtrack includes three Claudio Villa songs: "Stornelli Amorosi", "La Strada Del Bosco" and "Tic Ti, Tic Ta". According to the liner notes accompanying the CD, "Stanley grew up listening to vocalists such as Carlo Buti and Claudio Villa, huge names in Italy but little known here. Villa is a master of the stornello, a traditional song style that we thought had just the right, delicate feeling for the film's opening. But we and co-director Campbell Scott were further amazed by Villa when in the editing room, we chanced upon his boisterous "Tic Ti, Tic Ta" and his shamelessly romantic "La Strada del Bosco".
- Song of Spring (1951)
- Serenata amara (1952)
- Solo per te Lucia (1952)
- Ore 10: lezione di canto (1955)
- Primo applauso (1956)
- Serenate per 16 bionde (1957)
- L'amore nasce a Roma (1958)
- Fountain of Trevi (1960)
- Felice Liperi (27 March 2007). "Morandi celebra il "reuccio"". La Repubblica. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
- "90 anni fa nasceva il 'reuccio' Claudio Villa". Adnkronos. 23 December 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
- Enrico Deregibus. Dizionario completo della Canzone Italiana. Giunti Editore, 2010. ISBN 8809756258.
- Big Night Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, liner notes.