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The group originated from the previous Quartetto Ritmo following the replacement of one singer. Felice Chiusano filled the vacancy left by Enrico Gentile and joined Tata Giacobetti, Virgilio Savona and Enrico De Angelis in the quartet's line-up. Quartetto Cetra debuted in a radio review titled Riepilogando in 1941.
In October 1947, Enrico De Angelis left the group to join the Army. He was replaced by the singer Lucia Mannucci, the wife of Virgilio Savona. That was Cetra's final formation, which lasted for the rest of their four-decade career. The first song they performed together was Dove siete stata nella notte del 3 giugno? ("Where were you on the night of 3 June?").
In 1948, Quartetto Cetra did the dubbing of the choruses for the Italian release of Disney's movie Dumbo. For their excellent job they received a congratulation note signed by Walt Disney himself. Afterwards they did the dubbing for other movies such as Make Mine Music, Melody Time and The Wizard of Oz.
Quartetto Cetra made their stage debut in Pietro Garinei & Sandro Giovannini's Gran Baldoria review. Several other musical comedies followed. On stage the Cetras worked with other Italian celebrities of those times, such Wanda Osiris and Alberto Sordi.
Italian television was born in 1954. In the same year Quartetto Cetra made their first home television appearance in a show called In quattro si viaggia meglio ("You travel better when you're four"), although they had appeared on British television as far back as 1948 in Café Continental. In time they did a great number of other TV programs. Among them, their parodies of some literature classics such as The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers were a huge success.
The quartet's early style was very much similar to Mills Brothers's, with jazz and swing vocal arrangements. The group then found its own way with a combination of songs and entertainment: catchy tunes with funny lyrics yet with sophisticated arrangements, performed in comedy acts. The audience loved that, and Quartetto Cetra soon became very popular at first on the radio, then on stage and on the TV as well.
Quartetto Cetra was widely credited with the great virtue of combining excellent professional skills with popular entertainment.
In over forty years the group's repertoire included more than a thousand songs. Most were written by the duo Tata Giacobetti-Virgilio Savona, two members of the quartet. Just to name a few of them, Il Visconte di Castelfombrone, In un palco della Scala, Un disco dei Platters, Nella vecchia fattoria (Italian version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm), Vecchia America, Che centrattacco (dedicated to Virgilio Levratto), Un bacio a mezzanotte, I ricordi della sera.
Quartetto Cetra officially finished their performing career on 1 July 1988 in Bologna, with their last public concert.
Their song Crapa Pelada (Testa Pelata) ("Bald head") is used in the TV series Breaking Bad, in Season 3's final episode, "Full Measure".
- Virgilio Savona, "Gli indimenticabili Cetra",Sperling & Kupfer, Milano 1992
- Matteo Ceschi, "Singing What We Were to Know What We Are: The Quartetto Cetra and National History in Italian TV Entertainment", conference paper, London 2009 (http://www.academia.edu/1467460/Singing_What_We_Were_to_Know_What_We_Are_The_Quartetto_Cetra_and_National_History_in_Italian_TV_Entertainment)