Frank Sinatra

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"Old Blue Eyes" belts one out.
"Old Blue Eyes" belts one out.

Francis Albert Sinatra (December 12, 1915May 14, 1998) was an American singer who is considered one of the finest vocalists of all time, renowned for his impeccable phrasing and timing. Many critics place him alongside Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and The Beatles as the most important popular music figures of the 20th century. [1] Sinatra launched a second career as a dramatic film actor, and became admired for a screen persona distinctly tougher than his smooth singing style. Sinatra also had a larger-than-life presence in the public eye, and as "The Chairman of the Board" became an American icon, known for his brash, sometimes swaggering attitude, as embodied by his signature song "My Way".



He was born in Hoboken, New Jersey as the only child of a quiet Sicilian fireman father, Anthony Martin Sinatra (1894-1969). Anthony had emigrated to the United States in 1895. His mother, Natalie Della Gavarante (1896-1977), was a talented, tempestuous Ligurian, who worked as a part-time abortionist. She as known as "Dolly", and emigrated in 1897.

Early career

Frank Sinatra decided to become a singer after hearing Bing Crosby on the radio. He began singing in small clubs in New Jersey and eventually attracted the attention of trumpeter and band-leader Harry James.

Frank Sinatra, 1947.
Frank Sinatra, 1947.

After a brief stint with James, he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940 where he rose to fame as a singer. His vast appeal to the "bobby soxers", as teenage girls were called, revealed a whole new audience for popular music, which had appealed mainly to adults up to that time.

He later signed with Columbia Records as a solo artist with some success, particularly during the musicians' recording strikes. Vocalists were not part of the musician union and were allowed to record during the ban by using a capella vocal backing.

Sinatra's singing career was in decline in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sinatra had begun appearing in movies in the early 1940s, but usually in musicals, often undistinguished ones. He then launched a second career as a dramatic actor by playing scrappy Pvt. Angelo Maggio in eve-of-Pearl Harbor drama From Here to Eternity (1953), for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. This role and performance became legendary at the time as the key comeback moment in Sinatra's career. [2]

The following year, Sinatra played a crazed, coldblooded assassin determined to kill the President in the thriller Suddenly; critics found Sinatra's performance one of the most chilling portrayals of a psychopath ever committed to film. This was followed in 1955 by his portrayal of a heroin addict in 1955's The Man with the Golden Arm, for which he received an Academy Award Best Actor nomination.

Soon after From Here to Eternity, Sinatra's singing career rebounded. During the 1950s, he signed with Capitol Records, where he worked with many of the finest arrangers of the era, most notably Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Billy May, and with whom he made a series of highly regarded recordings. By the early 1960s, he was a big enough star to start his own record label: Reprise Records. His position with the label earned him the long-lasting nickname "The Chairman of the Board".

In the 1950s and 1960s, Sinatra was a popular attraction in Las Vegas. He was friends with many other entertainers, including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Together, along with actor Peter Lawford and comedian Joey Bishop, and sometimes Shirley MacLaine, the only female member of the Rat Pack, they formed the core of the Rat Pack, a loose group of entertainers who were friends and socialized together. All are now deceased except for Bishop and MacLaine.

Sinatra played a major role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos in the 1960s. Sinatra led his fellow members of the Rat Pack in refusing to patronize hotels and casinos that denied service to Sammy Davis Jr., a black man. As the Rat Pack became the subject of great media attention due to the release of the film Ocean's Eleven (1960), many hotels and casinos, desiring the attention that would come from the presence of Sinatra and the Rat Pack in their properties, relented on their policies of segregation.

Sinatra was close to the Kennedy family and was a friend and strong supporter of President John F. Kennedy. Years later, Sinatra's youngest daughter Tina would state that Sinatra and mob figure Sam Giancana had helped Kennedy win a crucial primary election in 1960 by helping to deliver the union vote. [3] Sinatra is said to have introduced Kennedy to Judith Campbell, who had been a girlfriend of both Sinatra's and Giancana. Campbell allegedly began a relationship with Kennedy; eventually Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy became alarmed and told his brother to distance himself from Sinatra. [4] Sinatra would lose his Nevada casino license in 1963 when Giancana was seen in the Cal-Neva Lodge casino, of which Sinatra was a part owner. [5]

Frank Sinatra as Maj. Bennett Marco in The Manchurian Candidate, 1962.
Frank Sinatra as Maj. Bennett Marco in The Manchurian Candidate, 1962.

Sinatra resumed his strong film work with the 1962 paranoid classic The Manchurian Candidate, in which he plays the troubled, frequently blinking, but nonetheless resolute protagonist. In 1965's Von Ryan's Express, Sinatra added dimensionality to a World War II action role. Other film appearances during this time were either cameos or, as in the case of 1964's Robin and the Seven Hoods, critically-panned efforts to trade in on his image.

In the 1970s Sinatra staged a retirement and several comebacks, recording less frequently but continuing to perform in Las Vegas and around the world.

In 1981 Sinatra's Nevada casino license was reinstated after hearings by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Indeed, journalist Pete Hamill wrote in his book, Why Sinatra Matters, that Sinatra was "the most investigated American performer since John Wilkes Booth."

"Sure, I knew some of those guys," Sinatra himself said. "I spent a lot of time in saloons. And saloons are not run by the Christian Brothers. There were a lot of guys around, and they came out of Prohibition, and they ran pretty good saloons. I was a kid. I worked in the places that were open. They paid you, and the checks didn't bounce. I didn't meet any Nobel Prize winners in saloons. But if Francis of Assisi was a singer and worked in saloons, he would've met the same guys."

In 1986, investigative journalist Kitty Kelley published a biography of Sinatra entitled His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. Sinatra went to court to try to prevent it from being published, bring a $2 million lawsuit against her because he believed that the book painted him in an unattractive light, and he accused her of misrepresenting herself as his authorized biographer. He later withdrew his lawsuit amid much publicity and the book went on to become number one on the New York Times best seller list and was a huge seller not only in the US but also in England, Canada, and Australia. Another Sinatra nemesis, the Hollywood gossip columnist Rona Barrett, came closer to a depiction of his character in her roman a clef, The Lovo-maniacs, which attempted a fictional insight into his complex personality.

Sinatra's singing career continued into the 1990s, most notably with his Duets albums on which he sang with other stars such as U2's Bono. He continued to perform live until February 1995, but the nearly 80-year-old singer often had to rely on teleprompters for his lyrics, to compensate for his failing memory.

Marriage and family

Sinatra was married to his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Barbato, in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 4, 1939. They had three children together: Nancy Sinatra (born June 8, 1940), Frank Sinatra, Jr. (born January 10, 1944), and Christine "Tina" Sinatra (born June 20, 1948). Although Sinatra did not remain faithful to his wife, he was by many accounts a devoted father. However, his affair with Ava Gardner became public and the couple was separated in 1950. They were divorced on October 29, 1951 despite Nancy Sr.'s (as she was sometimes known) religious qualms and objections. According to public reports Frank and Nancy Sr. remained on at least civil terms, if not better, and Nancy would recount how Frank still loved her cooking and would send someone by to pick up her home-made specialties many decades after they separated.

Sinatra married the actress Ava Gardner on November 7, 1951, only ten days after his divorce from his first wife became final. They were separated on October 27, 1953 but were not divorced until 1957. She was considered to be his truest love, but that did not guarantee marital success and stability in Hollywood.

Sinatra asked actress Lauren Bacall, whom he had been seeing since shortly after her husband Humphrey Bogart died in 1957, to marry him, but reneged when word of their relationship became public.

On December 8, 1963, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped. Sinatra paid the kidnappers' $240,000 ransom demand (even offering $1,000,000 if only his son would be returned, though the kidnappers bizarrely turned this offer down), and his son was released unharmed on December 10. Because the kidnappers demanded that Sinatra call them only from payphones, Sinatra carried a roll of dimes with him throughout the ordeal, and this became a lifetime habit. The kidnappers were subsequently apprehended and convicted.

Sinatra married actress Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior, in 1966. They were divorced two years later.

In 1976, Sinatra married Barbara Blakeley Marx (formerly married to Zeppo Marx), who converted to Catholicism to marry him. She remained his wife until his death, although her relations with Sinatra's children were consistently portrayed as stormy, something Nancy Sinatra (Jr.) confirmed when she publicly claimed that Barbara had not bothered to call Frank's children even when the end was near, although they were close by, and the children missed the opportunity to be at their father's bedside when he died.


A frequent visitor, property owner and benefactor in the Palm Springs, California area, Sinatra wished to be buried in the desert he grew to love so much. Sinatra died in 1998 at the age of 82 of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California, following a long battle with coronary heart disease, kidney disease, bowel cancer, and senility. His funeral was held on May 20th at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Sinatra's last words were (according to his daughter Nancy Sinatra, as told to Variety senior columnist Army Archerd): "I'm losing."

Sinatra was buried a few miles away from Palm Springs next to his parents in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, a quiet, unassuming cemetery near his famous compound in Rancho Mirage which is located on the beautiful, tree-lined thoroughfare that bears his name. His longtime friend Jilly Rizzo, who died in a Rancho Mirage car crash in 1992, is buried nearby as is pop star, former Palm Springs mayor and Congressman, Sonny Bono. Legend has it that Sinatra was buried with a flask of Jack Daniel's whiskey, a roll of ten dimes (in reference to the kidnapping of his son, see above), a lighter (which some take to be a reference to his mob connections) and a packet of Camel cigarettes. The words "The Best is Yet to Come" are imprinted on his tombstone.

Recorded legacy

In the Wee Small Hours, 1955 — an early concept album.
In the Wee Small Hours, 1955 — an early concept album.

Sinatra left a vast legacy of recordings, from his very first sides with the Harry James orchestra in 1939, the vast catalogs at Columbia in the 1940s, Capitol in the 1950s, and Reprise from the 1960s onwards, up to his 1994 album Duets II.

Some of his best known recorded songs include:

Three of his songs made #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 even after the advent of the rock and roll era: "Learnin' the Blues" (1955), "Strangers in the Night" (1966), and "Somethin' Stupid" (1967), the last a duet with daughter Nancy.

Of all his many albums, At the Sands with Count Basie, which was recorded live in Las Vegas in 1966, with Sinatra in his prime, backed by Count Basie's big band, remains his most popular and is still a big seller.

Sinatra is also credited with putting out perhaps the first concept albums. 1955's In the Wee Small Hours is the prime example: a set of songs specifically recorded for the album, using only ballads, organized around a central mood of late-night isolation and aching lost love (supposedly due to his separation from Ava Gardner), with a now-classic album cover reflecting the theme. Rolling Stone magazine later named In the Wee Small Hours as #100 [6] on their list of the 500 best albums of all time.

The following year's Songs For Swingin' Lovers took an alternate tack, recording existing pop standards in a hipper, jazzier fashion, revealing an overall exuberance; Rolling Stone placed it #306 [7] on the above list.

Other Sinatra milestone albums include 1965's September of My Years, which according to critic Stephen Holden, "summed up the punchy sentimentality of a whole generation of American men," 1973's comeback album Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back, and 1980's Trilogy: Past Present Future, an ambitious triple album using three arrangers that attempted to portray the past, present, and future of his career.

Sinatra won ten Grammy Awards during his career, including Album of the Year for Come Dance With Me in 1959, September of My Years in 1965, and Sinatra: A Man and His Music in 1966, and Record of the Year for "Strangers in the Night" in 1966. (The Grammy Awards only began in 1958, after two peaks of Sinatra's recording career had already happened.)

In addition, Sinatra was named the Down Beat readers' poll Male Singer of the Year sixteen times between 1941 and 1966 and the Personality of the Year six times between 1954 and 1959, and was named the Down Beat critics' poll Male Singer of the Year twice, in 1955 and 1957. Sinatra was also named the Playboy Jazz All-Star Poll Male Vocalist of the Year seven times between 1957 and 1963. [8]

In 2001 BBC Radio 2 named Sinatra as the "Greatest Voice of the Twentieth Century". [9]

Sinatra was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1980.

Stephen Holden wrote for the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide:

"Frank Sinatra's voice is pop music history. [...] Like Presley and Dylan—the only other white male American singers since 1940 whose popularity, influence, and mythic force have been comparable—Sinatra will last indefinitely. He virtually invented modern pop song phrasing."

Two decades later, radio personality and musician Jonathan Schwartz's assessment in a 2005 book review for the New York Observer showed that Sinatra's musical reputation had not diminished:

"I believe, based on a lifetime of consideration, that Frank Sinatra was the greatest interpretive musician this country has ever produced."


For a listing of Frank Sinatra albums and singles, see Frank Sinatra discography.



See also


  • The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Rolling Stone Press, 1983.

External links

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