Francis Albert “Frank” Sinatra ( December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an American jazz and traditional pop singer, songwriter, actor, producer and director, who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. Born in Hoboken, New Jersey to Italian immigrants, he began his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey.
He found success as a solo artist after being signed by Columbia Records in 1943, becoming the idol of the “bobby soxers”. He released his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, in 1946. Sinatra’s professional career had stalled by the early 1950s, and he turned to Las Vegas, where he became one of its best known performers as part of the Rat Pack.
His career was reborn in 1953 with the success of From Here to Eternity and his subsequent Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He signed with Capitol Records and released several critically lauded albums, including In the Wee Small Hours (1955), Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956), Come Fly with Me (1958), Only the Lonely (1958) and Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960).
Sinatra left Capitol in 1961 to start his own record label, Reprise Records, and released a string of successful albums.
In 1965 he recorded the retrospective September of My Years, starred in the Emmy-winning television special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, and scored hits with “Strangers in the Night” and “My Way”. After releasing Sinatra at the Sands, recorded at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Vegas with frequent collaborator Count Basie in early 1966, the following year he recorded one of his most famous collaborations with Tom Jobim, the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim.
It was followed by 1968’s collaboration with Duke Ellington. Sinatra retired for the first time in 1971, but came out of retirement two years later and recorded several albums and resumed performing at Caesars Palace. In 1980 he scored a Top 40 hit with “(Theme From) New York, New York”. Using his Las Vegas shows as a home base, he toured both within the United States and internationally until a short time before his death in 1998.
Sinatra forged a highly successful career as a film actor. After winning an Academy Award for From Here to Eternity, he starred in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), and received critical acclaim for his performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). He appeared in various musicals such as On the Town (1949), Guys and Dolls (1955), High Society (1956), and Pal Joey (1957), and toward the end of his career he became associated with playing detectives, including the title character in Tony Rome (1967).
On television, The Frank Sinatra Show began on ABC in 1950, and he continued to make appearances on television throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Sinatra was also heavily involved with politics from the mid 1940s, and actively campaigned for presidents such as Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, though before Kennedy’s death Sinatra’s alleged Mafia connections led to his being snubbed.
While Sinatra never formally learned how to read music, he had a fine, natural understanding of it, and he worked very hard from a young age to improve his abilities in all aspects of music. A perfectionist, renowned for his impeccable dress sense and cleanliness, he always insisted on recording live with his band.
Sinatra led a colorful personal life, and was often involved in turbulent affairs with women, such as with his second wife Ava Gardner. He went on to marry Mia Farrow in 1966 and Barbara Marx in 1976. Sinatra had several violent confrontations, usually with journalists who he felt had crossed him or work bosses he had disagreements with.
He was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1985 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. Sinatra was also the recipient of eleven Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Trustees Award, Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. After his death, American music critic Robert Christgau called him “the greatest singer of the 20th century”, and he continues to be seen as an iconic figure.
Francis Albert Sinatra[a] was born on December 12, 1915, in an upstairs tenement at 415 Monroe Street in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was the only child of Italian immigrants Natalina “Dolly” Garaventa, the daughter of a lithographer from Genoa, and Antonino Martino “Marty” Sinatra, the son of grape growers from Lercara Friddi, near Palermo. The couple had eloped on Valentine’s Day, 1913 and married in a civil ceremony in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Sinatra weighed 13.5 pounds (6.1 kg) at birth and had to be delivered with the aid of forceps, which caused severe scarring to his left cheek, neck, and ear, and perforated his ear drum, damage that remained for life. Due to his injuries at birth, his baptism at St. Francis Church in Hoboken was delayed
until April 2, 1916. A childhood operation on his mastoid bone left major scarring on his neck, and during
adolescence he suffered from cystic acne that scarred his face and neck. Sinatra was raised Roman Catholic.
When Sinatra’s mother was a child, her pretty face earned her the nickname “Dolly”. Energetic and driven, biographers believe that she was the dominant factor in the development of her son’s personality traits and extraordinary self-confidence.
Barbara Sinatra claims that Dolly was abusive to him as a child, and “knocked him around a lot”. Dolly became influential in Hoboken and in local Democratic Party circles. She worked as a midwife, earning $50 for each delivery, and according to Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley, also ran an illegal abortion service that catered to Italian Catholic girls. She also had a gift for languages and served as a local interpreter. Sina
tra’s illiterate father was a bantamweight boxer who fought under the name Marty O’Brien. He later worked for 24 years at the Hoboken Fire Department, working his way up to Captain. Sinatra spent much time at his parents’ tavern in Hoboken,[e] working on his homework and occasionally singing a song on top of the player piano for spare change.
During the Great Depression, Dolly provided money to her son for outings with friends and to buy expensive clothes, resulting in neighbors describing him as the “best-dressed kid in the neighborhood”. Excessively thin and small as a child and young man, Sinatra’s skinny frame later became a staple of jokes during stage shows.
Sinatra developed an interest in music, particularly big band jazz, at a young age. He listened to Gene Austin, Rudy Vallée, Russ Colombo and Bob Eberly, and “idolized” Bing Crosby.
Sinatra’s maternal uncle, Domenico, gave him a ukulele for his 15th birthday, and he began performing at family gatherings. Sinatra attended David E. Rue Jr. High School from 1928, and A. J. Demarest High School in 1931, where he arranged bands for school dances. He left without graduating, having attended only 47 days before being expelled for “general rowdiness”. To please his mother, he enrolled at Drake Business School, but departed after 11 months.
Dolly found Sinatra work as a delivery boy at the Jersey Observer newspaper, where his godfather Frank Garrick worked,[f] and after that, Sinatra was a riveter at the Tietjen and Lang shipyard. He performed in local Hoboken social clubs such as The Cat’s Meow and The Comedy Club, and sang for free on radio stations such as WAAT in Jersey City.
In New York, Sinatra found jobs singing for his supper or for cigarettes. To improve his speech, he began taking elocution lessons for a dollar each from vocal coach John Quinlan, who was one of the first people to notice his impressive vocal range.
Santopietro stated that by the early 1980s, Sinatra’s voice had “coarsened, losing much of its power and flexibility, but audiences didn’t care”.
In 1982, he signed a $16 million three-year deal with the Golden Nugget of Las Vegas. Kelley notes that by this period Sinatra’s voice had grown “darker, tougher and loamier”, but he “continued to captivate audiences with his immutable magic”. She added that his baritone voice “sometimes cracked, but the gliding intonations still aroused the same raptures of delight as they had at the Paramount Theater”.
That year he made a reported further $1.3 million from the Showtime television rights to his “Concert of the Americas” in the Dominican Republic, $1.6 million for a concert series at Carnegie Hall, and $250,000 in just one evening at the Chicago Fest. He donated a lot of his earnings to charity. He put on a performance at the White House for the Italian Prime Minister, and performed at the Radio City Music Hall with Luciano Pavarotti and George Shearing.
Sinatra was selected as one of the five recipients of the 1983 Kennedy Center Honors, alongside Katherine Dunham, James Stewart, Elia Kazan, and Virgil Thomson. Quoting Henry James, President Reagan said in honoring his old friend that “art was the shadow of humanity” and that Sinatra had “spent his life casting a magnificent and powerful shadow”.
On September 21, 1983, Sinatra filed a $2 million court case against Kitty Kelley, suing her in punitive damages, before her unofficial biography, His Way, was even published. The book became a best-seller for “all the wrong reasons” and “the most eye-opening celebrity biography of our time”, according to William Safire of The New York Times.Sinatra was always adamant that such a book would be written on his terms, and he himself would “set the record straight” in details of his life.
According to Kelley, the family detested her and the book, which took its toll on Sinatra’s health. Kelley claims that Tina Sinatra blamed her for her father’s colon surgery in 1986. He was forced to drop the case on September 19, 1984, with several leading newspapers expressing concerns about his views on censorship.
In 1984, Sinatra worked with Kuincy Jones for the first time in nearly two decades on the album, L.A. Is My Lady, which was well received critically. The album was a substitute for another Jones project, an album of duets with Lena Horne, which had to be abandoned. In 1986, Sinatra collapsed on stage while performing in Atlantic City and was hospitalized for diverticulitis, which left him looking frail.
Two years later, Sinatra reunited with Martin and Davis, Jr. and went on the Rat Pack Reunion Tour, during which they played a number of large arenas. When Martin dropped out of the tour early on, a rift developed between them and the two never spoke again.
In 1990, Sinatra was awarded the second “Ella Award” by the Los Angeles-based Society of Singers, and performed for a final time with Ella Fitzgerald at the award ceremony.
Sinatra maintained an active touring schedule in the early 1990s, performing 65 concerts in 1990, 73 in 1991 and 84 in 1992 in seventeen different countries. In 1993, Sinatra returned to Capitol Records and the recording studio for Duets, which became his best-selling album. The album and its sequel, Duets II, released the following year, would see Sinatra remake his classic recordings with popular contemporary performers, who added their vocals to a pre-recorded tape.
During his tours in the early 1990s, his memory failed him at times during concerts, and he happened to faint onstage in Richmond, Virginia in March 1994. His final public concerts were held in Fukuoka Dome in Japan on December 19–20, 1994.
The following year, Sinatra sang for the very last time on February 25, 1995 before a live audience of 1200 select guests at the Palm Desert Marriott Ballroom, on the closing night of the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic golf tournament. Esquire reported of the show that Sinatra was “clear, tough, on the money” and “in absolute control”.
Sinatra was awarded the Legend Award at the 1994 Grammy Awards, where he was introduced by Bono, who said of him, “Frank’s the chairman of the bad attitude … Rock ‘n roll plays at being tough, but this guy is the boss – the chairman of boss … I’m not going to mess with him, are you?”
In 1995, to mark Sinatra’s 80th birthday, the Empire State Building glowed blue. A star-studded birthday tribute, Sinatra: 80 Years My Way, was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, featuring performers such as Ray Charles, Little Richard, Natalie Cole and Salt-N-Pepa singing his songs. At the end of the program Sinatra graced the stage for the last time to sing the final notes of the “Theme from New York, New York” with an ensemble. In recognition of his many years of association with Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 1997.