WASHINGTON, DC—“Luck Be a Lady.” “My Way.” “New York, New York.” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
These and other standards interpreted masterfully by , who would have turned 100 in December, are a huge part of the soundtrack of America.
“Ole Blue Eyes” made each song his own, as Walter Cronkite explained in 1965: “He has an appealing enthusiasm for the life he has lived. And when he sings, he makes it sound as though it all happened to him.”
One of the greatest singers of all time (imdb.com lists him at number three, Billboard has called him “arguably the most important popular music figure of the 20th century”), Francis Albert “Frank” Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 12, 1915. He died of a heart attack May 14, 1998 in Los Angeles, , leaving behind a musical legacy that few have matched. “The Best is Yet to Come,” referencing a song he conquered with unparalleled style in 1964, is etched on his tombstone.
To celebrate and honor the legend of “The Voice,” the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is hosting “ at 100,” an exhibit focusing on his popular music and movie career.
According to museum officials, the display, which will run through March of 2016, “showcases Sinatra’s contributions to America’s songbook and film history through photographic portraits by Herman Leonard and archival photos from Director George Sidney’ s collection, sheet music, album covers, and posters. The key artifacts illustrating Sinatra’s career include the trench coat worn by him in the 1957 movie Pal Joey and bowties made by his first wife, Nancy, to throw to fans at concerts. A boom microphone of the type used by helps visitors understand how he combined the ‘crooner’ techniques of the band singer with the improvisational approach of the jazz musician, to produce a unique sound which took him to the top of the charts and inspired and informed generations of singers.”
The only child of Sicilian immigrants, was heavily influenced by (and later stated he wanted to be better than) , who he discovered as an impressionable teen during the early 1930s. Before dropping out of high school his senior year to focus on music, Sinatra was part of the school’s glee club.
In September of 1935, appeared in a contest as part of the Hoboken Four on Major Bowes’ radio show, the Original Amateur Hour. The vocal group won the contest and began touring with Bowes. After this, Sinatra worked as a singing waiter and MC at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood, New Jersey and was then hired by trumpeter Harry James, with whom he cut his first record on July 13, 1939. The song was “From The Bottom of My Heart” (backed with “Melancholy Mood”) for the Brunswick label. Recorded at 78 rpm, both songs failed to chart.
In January of 1940, jumped ship to a more famous bandleader, trombonist Tommy Dorsey, replacing lead singer Jack Leonard. During his time with Dorsey, Sinatra began appearing in films, helping lead to a prestigious Hollywood career with roles in such classics as From Here to Eternity (1953), in which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Guys and Dolls (1955), and (1962).
After two years of success with Dorsey (they recorded 15 top-10 hits together, including the #1 single, “I'll Never Smile Again”), Sinatra, a charismatic, supremely confident entertainer, embarked on a solo career, becoming the first “teen idol.” According to www.the-main-event.eu, Sinatra’s concerts “became magnets for screaming teenage girls, the forerunners of modern-day rock groupies…with hysterical ‘bobby-soxer’ fans rioting outside his performance at New York’s Paramount Theater on Columbus Day in 1944.”
, who won 13 Grammy Awards, recorded for Columbia Records between 1943 and 1952, and then moved to Capitol Records in 1953. In 1960, in order to maintain more artistic freedom over his songs, he co-founded Reprise Records, where he recorded exclusively after 1963. In total, he recorded more than 1,200 songs in his distinctive rich baritone.
During the late 1950s and well into the ’60s, Sinatra was the leader of the fabled Rat Pack, which also included , , Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The rowdy group, which many today still consider to be the epitome of cool, frequently performed at the Copa Room in Jackie Entratter’s Sands Hotel and Casino on the famed Las Vegas Strip, singing, telling jokes, doing impressions, and in general having great time entertaining the audience. They partied aplenty and made several films, including Robin and the Seven Hoods and .
Known as a ladies’ man, married his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Barbato, in 1939. Before divorcing in 1951, they had three children together: Nancy (1940), Frank Sinatra Jr. (1944) and Tina (1948). In 1951, Sinatra married Ava Gardner, whom he’d had an affair with while married to Nancy. Sinatra divorced Gardner in 1957 and married Mia Farrow in 1966. They divorced in 1968. In 1976, Sinatra married Barbara Blakely Marx (the widow of Zeppo Marx), and the two remained together until Sinatra’s death.
Sinatra’s first solo studio album was The Voice of Frank Sinatra, recorded in 1946. His 59th and last studio album was 1994’s Duets II, which followed on the heels of 1993’s Duets. The latter sold more than three million copies and was Sinatra’s only record to reach triple platinum. After an 80th birthday performance in 1995, Sinatra retired from the music biz.
sounds great on vinyl (or CD), but longtime fans and family members will tell you there’s nothing compared to seeing him live in concert. In a recent interview with CBS news, Frank’s daughter Nancy said the audience would let out a collective gasp “the minute he walked out on stage…It was very special, because the electricity in the room was so there. I mean, it was shocking.”
Sadly, the “electricity” and “shock” of a live show is two decades in the past, but fans can hope to catch some of that cool vibe by attending “ at 100.”
National Museum of American History
12th & Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001
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