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The hand-cranked street organ, also known as a barrel organ, has a historical connection to Italian-American culture, particularly in New York City.

The instrument itself has origins in Europe, where it was used in the 18th and 19th centuries as a portable means of playing music. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian immigrants brought the hand-cranked street organ to the United States, where it became a fixture in Italian neighborhoods, particularly in cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

In New York City, the hand-cranked street organ became synonymous with the Italian-American community, especially in neighborhoods like Little Italy and East Harlem. It was often played by organ grinders, typically Italian immigrants, who would turn the crank to play popular tunes of the time. This tradition became an essential part of the cultural fabric of these communities, with the music of the street organ adding to the atmosphere of the bustling streets.

The street organ and its organ grinders were featured in many depictions of Italian-American life, including films like The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, where the organ grinder scene in Little Italy is iconic. This portrayal helped solidify the connection between the hand-cranked street organ and Italian-American history in the popular imagination.

Today, while the tradition of the hand-cranked street organ has largely faded, it remains a symbol of the Italian-American experience and its contributions to American culture, particularly in the realm of music and street life.

Great Amerian Street Organ is pleased to offer presentations highlighting not only the history of the instrument itself, but also the ways in which it has become intertwined with the Italian-American cultural experience. Music, of course, is also provided.

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