The youngest of four children, Modugno was born in Polignano a Mare, province of Bari (Puglia) on 9 January 1928. His father, Vito Cosimo Modugno, was a municipal police commander, while his mother, Pasqua Lorusso, was a housewife.
At the age of 9, he moved with his family to San Pietro Vernotico, in the Province of Brindisi, where his father was transferred for a new job position. Here Domenico attended primary school and learned San Pietro Vernotico’s dialect, which belongs to the linguistic area of Lecce’s dialect, similar to Sicilian. He attended secondary school in Lecce.
From a young age he wanted to become an actor and in 1951, after his military service, he enrolled in an acting school. While still studying he had a role in a cinematographic version of Filumena Marturano by Eduardo De Filippo as well as some other films.
In 1957 his song “Lazzarella,” sung by Aurelio Fierro, came second in the Festival della Canzone Napoletana, bringing him his first taste of popularity.
In 1958 Modugno took part in Antonio Aniante’s comedy La Rosa di Zolfo at the Festival della Prosa in Venice. Also in 1958 he discovered the Italian comedy duo of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia, became their manager and got them into a long running film career. The turning point of his career came in that year, when he also participated in the Sanremo Music Festival, presenting, together with Johnny Dorelli, the song “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu.” Co-authored by Modugno and Franco Migliacci, the song won the contest and became an enormous success worldwide, including the United States. It received two Grammy Awards with sales above 22 million copies, and represented Italy in the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest, where it came in third.
In 1959, Modugno won the San Remo Music Festival for the second time in a row, with “Piove” (also known as “Ciao, ciao bambina”), and received second place in 1960 with “Libero.” This was a successful period of time for Modugno who again represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1959. Later his hit song “Io” was sung by Elvis Presley in English with the title “Ask Me.”
In 1962, Modugno won the San Remo Music Festival a third time with “Addio…, addio….” Four years later, he again represented Italy at Eurovision with “Dio, come ti amo.” Sergio Franchi recorded it in Italian [although titled "Oh How Much I Love You (Dio, come ti amo!)] on his 1967 RCA Victor album, From Sergio – with Love. Jack Jones recorded it in English for his 1967 album, Our Song, under the title, “Oh How Much I Love You”.
Modugno was an actor in 44 movies (such as Appuntamento a Ischia), and was a film producer of two (Tutto e’ musica of 1963 was his own biographical production).
The 1970s kept Modugno’s voice and mind busy in more classic music genres and profiles, as a singer and as a musician, adapting poetry, acting on television and in lead singing roles of modern operas.
In 1984 he was hit by a severe stroke and remained partially paralyzed. He had to abandon his artistic career and devote himself to rehab.
From 1986, he worked for the rights of disabled people, and in June 1987 he was elected congressman for Turin in Italian Parliament, in the ranks of the Radical Party, a liberal-social political group.
Modugno returned on the music scene, definitively (he already held a concert for former inmates of Agrigento’s mental asylum, in 1989), in 1992-1993: last song was Delfini (Dolphins,sing in 1993 with his son, Massimo, that’s following in his footsteps as a singer.
Domenico Modugno died, at the age of 66, from a heart attack in the island of Lampedusa (Sicily, Italy), in August 1994, while he was in his home by the sea.
A music critic said: “Modugno wanted to die as a true Southern Italian, under the summer sun, near the sea, blue on blue, after having mocked the death for a decade.