Synopsis of Pop Music
“I've lived a life that's full,
I've traveled each and ev'ry highway;
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way...”
The Voice. The Sultan of Swoon. The Chairman of the Board. Ol’ Blue Eyes. The Greatest Singer of the Popular Song. The provider, according to Gore Vidal, of the background music that was playing when half of North America’s population was conceived. A notorious bachelor and a family man. A lover and a fighter. Upon his entry into the world, Francis Albert Sinatra was thought to be stillborn until his grandmother doused him with cold water—probably the first and last time his vitality would ever be in question. His temper, sure, that was questioned…his high-profile friendships with high-profile men, his luck with the ladies, his health at the end…all of these were questioned. But never, never his vitality.
Descriptions of Francis’ Italian immigrant parents definitely speak to the man their boy would become. His father was a boxer and a fireman who thought singing was for sissies. His mother Dolly was a former saloonkeeper who sang at their family and community gatherings, and flying in the face of her husband’s sissy ideas, she paid for Francis’ singing lessons. In high school, 1933, Sinatra saw his hero Bing Crosby at a concert and vowed that he too would become a crooner someday (always one for an audacious boast, he also vowed that he’d be more successful than his hero).
Between local jobs like a runner/sportswriter gig for The Jersey Observer, Frank sang with a neighborhood vocal outfit called the Hoboken Four, and the group won their share of amateur talent contests round town—ten bucks or a set of dishes was their frequent prize. His first professional job came as the singing waiter/emcee at the Rustic Cabin, a roadhouse eatery in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Trumpet player Harry James, who had played in Benny Goodman’s band, heard Sinatra one night and hired him to sing in the band he was assembling.
Seven months later, James let Sinatra out of his two-year contract so the skinny crooner could join trombonist Tommy Dorsey’s swing band. From 1940 to 1942, the band would frequently hit the Top-10. Their hits included “Imagination,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “Fools Rush In,” “The One I Love,” “In the Blue of Evening,” “Violets For Your Furs” and “I’ll Never Smile Again,” which went to number one. Dorsey and his line-up appeared in several films during these years, so via a handful of cameos as the singer, Sinatra made his fateful introduction to the silver screen. Maybe more important than all this, however, was the breath control and the art of delicate phrasing that Sinatra learned from his bandleader boss. Sixteen bars and nary an inhale? No problem.
In late 1942, The Voice went solo. Dorsey wasn’t as easy-going as Harry James had been about letting the crooner out of his contracts—he demanded, and got, a chunk of Sinatra’s future profits for a good number of years. But Frank was a quick solo smash, so giving up the cash was worth it. Because he was exempt from fighting in the war thanks to a damaged eardrum, he became a veritable singing institution in the mid-40’s. He sang for Benny Goodman’s band, and starred in the popular radio show Lucky Strike Hit Parade. His trademark romantic baritone made the ladies miss their soldier beaus overseas, and it made the younger girls shriek—he was such a teeny-bopper idol, in fact, that when he was trying to refine his image a few years later, he actually had to ban the banshee under-agers from his radio broadcast tapings. Signature tunes like “When Your Lover is Gone,” “The Song is You” and “I’ve Got a Crush On You” became a part of his repertoire. But in 1946, he signed a five-year contract with MGM and put his singing career on the backburner so that he could devote himself to acting.
During the early 1950’s, Sinatra’s music and acting career dried up—a drought helped along by his rocky relationship with Ava Gardner (and 'rocky,' according to Sinatra legend, is a very understated adjective), his divorce from first wife Nancy, a load of bad press, hemorrhaged vocal cords, and his talent agency and movie studio turning their fair-weather backs. But an Academy Award-winning performance in From Here to Eternity marked his comeback to the screen, and he would soon step back into the recording studio as well.
Sinatra left the Columbia label in 1953 and moved to Capitol, and now, instead of his patented lovey-dovey ballads, Sinatra veered in a bolder, more sophisticatedly swinging and jazz-influenced direction. He teamed up with arranger Nelson Riddle, whose work with Nat King Cole had impressed him, and recorded hits like the supposedly Ava Garner-inspired “My One and Only Love,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Young at Heart.” He would also work famously with Billy May and Gordon Perkins. Albums, not singles, were the emphasis, but of course there were plenty of the latter…“Young at Heart,” “Learnin’ the Blues,” “Hey! Jealous Lover,” “All the Way” and “Witchcraft” among them. He was no ingénue anymore—his slightly deeper voice seemed worn with a few Ava battle scars—but it was just as rich as ever.
In 1961, Sinatra left Capitol and founded his own label, called Reprise. His first couple of Reprise efforts faired tolerably, but his real comeback triumph came in 1965 when he headlined the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by Count Basie’s orchestra and conducted by Quincy Jones. Strangers in the Night spent 73 weeks near the top of the charts, its title song going to number one. His duet with daughter Nancy the following year, called “Something Stupid,” also went to the top. The rest of the sixties unfolded under bright lights—either up on the big screen or onstage in Las Vegas, where he was a main attraction for years. The Rat Pack—Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Sinatra himself, their de facto leader—reigned supreme. At the close of the decade, Sinatra recorded “My Way,” based on a French song Paul Anka had adapted to the English language. The single did just fine in the States, but it stayed at the top of the U.K. charts for an unheard-of 122 weeks. And as if all of this weren’t enough for the fella who kept big band alive in the decade that saw the dawn of the hippies, Sinatra also made acclaimed forays into the Brazilian world of bossa nova, with Antonio Carlos Jobim guiding the way.
Sinatra announced his retirement in 1970—his first retirement, anyway. He was back three years later with TV specials and a Nixon White House appearance, and toured sporadically but successfully thereafter. In terms of record releases, the crooner was mum in the mid-70’s, but in the mid-80’s, he released Trilogy, which included the most well-known version of his Big Apple homage, “New York, New York.” The 90’s saw the release of Duets I & II, which included just that—Ol’ Blue Eyes sharing the mike with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bono, Tony Bennett, Liza Minnelli, Luther Vandross, Chrissie Hynde, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Lena Horne, Patti LaBelle and Lena Horne. He also added two more Grammys to his collection.
Sinatra sung well into his late 70’s. The shrieking bobbysox girls were all grown-up, but just as devoted as ever, and he charmed his way into younger generations’ hearts as well. That old-school Las Vegas has become a retro golden age...the Rat Packers are its icons; Sinatra's combination of tough guy and wearer of heart on sleeves is its standard of masculinity. But on his 80th birthday, New York City lit up the Empire State Building with blue lights. Las Vegas wasn’t the only electric metropolis that loved him.
Even as poor health slowed him down in his last years, Sinatra pugnaciously denied rumors of mental and physical decline…perhaps because he feared another cold water dousing. He died on May 14, 1998, and his legacy overflows with the tallies of his success, not to mention the legend of his personal life. Sixty films, millions of recordings, nine Grammys, two Academy Awards, innumerable headlines, rises and falls, tragedies and triumphs, concert tours, TV specials…if a legacy could actually be weighed, Sinatra’s might be the heaviest, now and always. Which is probably just the way he would have wanted it.
Artist Release History1940 - The Song is You
1944 - Swing and Dance with Frank Sinatra
1948 - The Voice of Frank Sinatra
1949 - Frankly Sentimental
1950 - Songs by Sinatra
1950 - Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra
1953 - Requested by You
1954 - In the Wee Small Hours
1955 - Frankie
1955 - Songs for Swingin' Lovers!
1955 - Swing Easy
1955 - High Society
1957 - Come Fly with Me
1957 - Close to You
1957 - Pal Joey
1957 - Where Are You
1957 - A Swingin' Affair
1957 - A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra
1958 - Come Dance With Me!
1958 - Only the Lonely
1959 - With Red Norvo Quintet: Live in Australia
1959 - The Broadway Kick
1959 - No One Cares
1960 - Reflections
1960 - Ring a Ding Ding
1960 - Nice 'N' Easy
1960 - Can-Can (Original Soundtrack)
1960 - Come Swing with Me
1961 - I Remember Tommy
1961 - Swing Along with Me
1961 - Point of No Return
1961 - All the Way
1961 - Sinatra's Swingin' Session!!! And More
1962 - All Alone
1962 - Sinatra and Strings
1962 - Sinatra-Basie
1962 - At Villa Venice, Chicago, Live 1962, Vol. 1
1962 - At Villa Venice, Chicago, Live 1962, Vol. 2
1962 - Saloon Singer
1962 - Sinatra and Swingin' Brass
1962 - Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain
1962 - Sinatra & Sextet: Live in Paris
1963 - The Concert Sinatra
1963 - Sinatra's Sinatra
1963 - Softly, As I Leave You
1963 - Come Blow Your Horn (Original Soundtrack)
1964 - Sings Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River &.
1964 - September of My Years
1965 - Moonlight Sinatra
1965 - Sinatra '65
1965 - My Kind of Broadway
1966 - Strangers in the Night
1966 - That's Life
1966 - Sinatra at the Sands
1967 - Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim
1967 - Francis A. Sinatra & Edward K. Ellington
1967 - Frank Sinatra and the World We Knew
1967 - Frank Sinatra and Frank and Nancy
1968 - The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas
1968 - Cycles
1969 - My Way
1969 - A Man Alone & Other Songs of Rod McKuen
1969 - Watertown
1969 - Sinatra & Company
1971 - In Concert at Royal Festival Hall
1972 - Frank Sinatra Conducts Music from Pictures
1972 - Academy Award Winners
1973 - Ol' Blue Eyes is Back
1973 - Some Nice Things I've Missed
1974 - The Main Event-Live
1976 - Frank Sinatra Conducts the Music of Alec.
1979 - Trilogy
1981 - She Shot Me Down
1984 - L.A. Is My Lady
1986 - A Man and His Music
1989 - It's Christmas Time
1989 - Christmas Dreaming
1991 - Sinatra and Company
1992 - Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color
1992 - Live 1942-1946
1992 - In the Blue of Evening
1992 - Pair
1993 - Duets
1994 - Christmas Songs by Sinatra
1994 - Live in Paris
1994 - Duets II
1995 - This One's for Tommy
1995 - Live, Seattle, Washington, 1957
1996 - Love of Mine
1996 - Everything Happens to Me
1996 - Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein
1996 - Christmas Sing with Frank and Bing
1996 - Sings the Select Sammy Cahn
1996 - The Inimitable
1997 - A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening
1998 - Capitol Years
1999 - Christmas
1999 - Karaoke
2000 - Christmas to Remember