Frank Sinatra has been one of the greatest singers of all time. Born in the early part of the 20th century in 1915, he lived to be 82 at the time of his passing, this day in 1998. And with him ended an era of the ‘singer’ who, by his sheer charm and personality, could lend an attitude and an identity to any song written in any genre.
Frank Sinatra was an only child, his parents were Italian immigrants in America. Not one to conform to academics or to discipline he dropped out of college and at the young age of 20, joined his first band, The Hoboken Four, which he soon left. Four years later he joined famous musician, Tommy Dorsey and subsequently released his first song, From the Bottom of My Heart in 1939.
Success followed swiftly and by 1941, Sinatra was the top singer in polls and lists across the US. And as it has always happened, any music artist at the top of his or her game naturally segues into films, and Frank Sinatra had an equally successful film career with films like From Here To Eternity with Burt Lancaster, Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly, The Man with The Golden Arm where he played a drug addict and was nominated for an academy award, among many, many others.
Sinatra also famously became a part of what was known as The Rat Pack that also had Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr & Peter Lawford in it and they all starred together in the original iconic 1960 film Oceans Eleven.
True pop star
Sinatra had a film career that lasted over 40 years but above and through it all it was his voice and the way he sang that outlasted it all. Right from 1939 up to a few years before his death in 1998, albums and recordings kept releasing (not to mention the posthumous releases). The hits kept coming. Sinatra performed with everybody, from Louis Armstrong to Bono, from Anton Carlos Jobim to Ella Fitzgerald.
He sang songs written by people like Rodgers & Hammerstein, Simon & Garfunkel, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Burt Bacharach, George Harrison (Something was one of his favorites). There were the original versions and then there are the Sinatra versions, his vocal style and charm turned the song into something else.
Frank Sinatra is the personification of a true singing artist, never a songwriter, never a performer, but a ‘singer of songs’ and ever the impeccable gentleman on stage, whatever his life had been off stage.
Sinatra, in my opinion, was the first true pop star. And his style of just standing on stage, microphone in hand, moving around a bit now and again as he ‘talked’ the songs out to you, like he was giving his point of view on the lyrics, and while he would do that he would look straight at you, into the audience, like he was having a one on one conversation. And when he did it with those ole blue eyes, any audience would listen with rapt attention.
There is a scene in a 1999 film called, Liberty Heights, set in the ‘50s, directed by Barry Levinson. Actor Ben Foster is being dropped home by a school correctional officer in his car. A Frank Sinatra song is playing on the radio. The officer stops the car outside Ben’s house and waits for him to get out. Ben doesn’t move, the officer asks, ‘What?’ and Ben says, ‘It’s Sinatra, sir… you never walk out on Sinatra’ and he proceeds to sit there till the song finishes and then he gets out of the car.
Last thing you hear
And that’s the kind of command Sinatra had over his listeners. Sinatra once said, ‘May you live to be a 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine’. So as we mark another year of his passing, before you sleep tonight, put on a Frank Sinatra song. That way you let his voice be the last thing you hear before you slip away…if I may say so.