Joseph Maselli

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Joseph Maselli
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Born (1924-05-30) May 30, 1924 (age 97)
Newark, New Jersey
DiedOctober 18, 2009
New Orleans
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma mater
  • Belleville High School
  • Rutgers University
  • Tulane University
  • Businessman
  • Philanthropist
  • Activist

Joseph Maselli (May 30, 1924 - October 18, 2009) was a businessman, philanthropist, and American-Italian activist. Maselli was the founder and publisher of the Italian American Digest.[1] Maselli also founded the American Italian Museum and the Louisiana American Italian Sports Hall of Fame (now known as the American Italian Cultural Center) as well as the American Italian Federation of the Southeast, the first umbrella organization of Italian American groups in the region and now consisting of 30 organizations.[2]

Early life, education and military service

Maselli was born in Newark, New Jersey to Francesco and Maria (nee Ianetta) Maselli. His father immigrated to the United States from Deliceto, in the region of Puglia, Italy, and his mother from San Giorgio a Liri in the region of Lazio, Italy. He was the couple’s first child and elder brother to Carmine and Domenick. He spent his childhood in Belleville, New Jersey. As a youth, he participated in a number of sports, including baseball, billiards, boxing, and ping pong. He was an avid philatelist and fan of the Lone Ranger. He graduated from Belleville High School in 1942 and matriculated at Rutgers University. After briefly studying at Rutgers University, Maselli enlisted in the US Army at the start of World War II. He was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and was later transferred to Camp Plauche outside of New Orleans. His duties mainly consisted of administrative work in the transportation corps, and he rose to the rank of sergeant. For his service, he was awarded the Good Conduct Medal. Maselli attained a degree in Commercial Science at Tulane University in 1950, completing his course of study in three years. Throughout his studies, he continued to work full time and support his growing family.[3]


Maselli opened his first liquor store after graduating from Tulane. His business grew and expanded into City Wholesale Liquor Co. and has been in continuous operation for 70 years.[4] His other primary business interests included commercial real estate.

American Italian activism

By age 50, Maselli turned his attention towards civic and philanthropic endeavors. In the early 1970s, Maselli partnered with New Orleans Mayor Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu in creating the Piazza d’Italia, a “people place” that has garnered many architectural awards and hosted numerous events. In 1973 Maselli founded the Italian American Digest. He oversaw the creation of the Italian Village exhibit at the 1984 World’s Fair.[5] He founded the American-Italian Renaissance Foundation in 1985. He made a point of using the term “American-Italian” instead of the more common “Italian-American” to emphasize that, first and foremost, he and his fellow New Orleanians of Italian origin were Americans. Maselli served as the foundation’s first director. He founded the Louisiana American Italian Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.[6] Throughout his life, Maselli sponsored and supported many amateur athletic teams, from little league to the US Olympic Boxing Team.[7] He created the Italian-American Federation of the Southeast in the early 1970s, combining more than 30 civic groups under one umbrella organization. In 1992, Maselli chaired the Louisiana Quincentenary Commission arranging for replicas of Christopher Columbus’ three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, to stop for exhibition at the Mississippi riverfront, enabling over 100,000 people to visit the ships. Maselli provided narration for the WYES documentary “Italian New Orleans” and appeared in numerous television shows in the United States and in Italy speaking about Italian American culture. He also provided narration for the A&E documentary on the Italian immigrant experience in New Orleans.

Civic activities

Maselli served as a board member of the New Orleans Aviation Board, French Market Board, State Ethics Commission, and Metropolitan Crime Commission.[8]

Honors and awards

In 1978 Maselli was made a Knight Grand Officer in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Grande Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.) In 1989 he was awarded the Weiss Award by the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 1990, Maselli was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in recognition of the significant impact Maselli made on his community through a lifetime of service. In 2007 the Anti-Defamation League bestowed their Torch of Liberty Award upon Maselli.[9]


Maselli met Antoinette Cammarata at a local USO club show on his first night in town upon being stationed at Camp Plauche in 1945. Antoinette was singing with the band. They were married in 1946 and had four children, Joseph Jr., Frank, Jan, and Michael, and nine grandchildren. Maselli’s son Frank has continued in his father’s activist footsteps as chairman of the AICC.[10]


Maselli died of natural causes on October 18, 2009 in New Orleans.[11]


  1. "Digest – American Italian Cultural Center". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  2. Times-Picayune, Bruce Nolan, The. "Joe Maselli, champion of N.O.'s Italian life, dies at age 85". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  3. "Joseph Maselli Obituary (2009) - The Times-Picayune". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  4. "About". City Wholesale Liquor Company, Inc. 2018-02-11. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  5. Yenckel, James T. (1984-05-06). "The New Orleans World's Fair". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  6. "Joseph Maselli - CiaoAmerica! Magazine". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  7. "Joseph Maselli Obituary (2009) - The Times-Picayune". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  8. "Founder – American Italian Cultural Center". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  9. "Joseph Maselli - October 18, 2009 - Obituary -". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  10. "Joseph Maselli - CiaoAmerica! Magazine". Retrieved 2021-01-08.
  11. "Joseph Maselli Obituary (2009) - The Advocate". Retrieved 2021-01-08.

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