When pop singer and Italian-American sweetheart Jenna Esposito takes the mic at the San Gennaro festival, she won't just be belting out Frank Sinatra and Connie Francis songs.
She will croon the beguiling love song of Ernie Rossi, a Little Italy shopkeeper who composed "Fa L'Amore Con Te" for his ailing wife on a beatup guitar he keeps behind the counter of the store his family has owned for 100 years.
"I got the goosebumps after just hearing four bars of the song," Esposito said.
She had wandered into E. Rossi & Co. on Mulberry and Grand Sts. recently, and Rossi asked, "Would you like to hear a song I wrote?"
Esposito, 31, loved it so much she is recording it for her next CD and hopes to make it a hit - not such an easy feat for an old-fashioned love song.
"I hope it can get into the right promoter's hands," Esposito said. "It's one of those timeless songs that could have been written 50 years ago or yesterday. It has a sweet, vulnerable melody and really touches people's hearts. It's such a joy to sing."
She'll be singing it Sept. 26, the last day of the 84th annual festival.
For the 60-year-old Rossi, who has been writing songs since he was a teen growing up in the landmark shop his grandfather opened in 1910, it's a dream come true. His eyes filled with tears last week as he played the song for customers who crowded around the counter of Italian coffee makers, key chains and figurines of saints.
Rossi and his late father, Luigi, spent their lives at the general store, selling Neapolitan records, sheet music and all things Italian.
"I've waited for this chance my whole life," said a choked-up Rossi. "And Jenna does such a beautiful job singing it. I pray she will turn it into a hit."
Rossi's wife, Margaret, said her husband has written about 150 songs in the 40 years since they fell in love and married at the Stardust Manor in Brooklyn. But "Fa L'Amore Con Te" (Making Love With You) is her favorite.
"Every night he comes home from work at midnight and he serenades me," said Margaret Rossi, who is about to undergo extensive spine surgery. "He would come into the bedroom, and say, 'Margaret, do you like it this way? Or this way?' I told him, 'It's beautiful honey! Go to sleep! Tomorrow is another day.'
"Ernie is such a good, kind man. I hope to God it happens for him. He has been sitting in that store his whole life."
Two Hawaiian tourists shopping for souvenirs last week swooned when they heard Rossi singing behind the counter with his nylon string guitar.
"Bravo!" shouted Linda Weiland, a retired naval officer. "I love it! You can feel your soul in it."
"This is one of the highlights of our trip," gushed her friend, Jan Cook, a literary agent. "This is one of the gems you hope to find when you visit New York!"