Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra (December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an American singer and actor.
Beginning his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra became a solo artist with great success in the early to mid-1940s, being the idol of the "bobby soxers". His professional career had stalled by the 1950s, but it was reborn in 1954 after he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He signed with Capitol Records and released several critically lauded albums (such as In the Wee Small Hours, Songs for Swingin' Lovers, Come Fly with Me, Only the Lonely and Nice 'n' Easy). Sinatra left Capitol to found his own record label, Reprise Records (finding success with albums such as Ring-A-Ding-Ding, Sinatra at the Sands and Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim), toured internationally, and fraternized with the Rat Pack and President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s. Sinatra turned 50 in 1965, 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".
Sinatra attempted to weather the changing tastes in popular music, but with dwindling album sales and after appearing in several poorly received films, he retired in 1971. Coming out of retirement in 1973, he recorded several albums, scoring a hit with "(Theme From) New York, New York" in 1980, and toured both within the United States and internationally until a few years before his death in 1998.
Sinatra also forged a career as a dramatic actor, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in From Here to Eternity, and he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for The Man with the Golden Arm. He also starred in such musicals as High Society, Pal Joey, Guys and Dolls and On the Town. Sinatra was honored with the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 and 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.
Sinatra's first cousin, Ray Sinatra, had an orchestra and his own network radio program ("Cycling the Kilocycles") in the mid-1930s, but Ray and Frank did not work together.
On March 18, 1939, Sinatra made his first recording, of a song called "Our Love", with the Frank Mane band. In June, Harry James hired Sinatra on a one year contract of $75 a week.
Growing dissatisfied with the James band, Sinatra was approached by Tommy Dorsey in November 1939, and formally joined Dorsey's band the following January.
In his first year with Dorsey, Sinatra released more than forty songs, with "I'll Never Smile Again" topping the charts for twelve weeks in mid-July.
In the autumn of 1940, Sinatra appeared in his first film, Las Vegas Nights. In May 1941, Sinatra was at the top of the male singer polls in the Billboard and Downbeat magazines. Sinatra's relationship with Tommy Dorsey was tenuous, and Sinatra recorded his first solo sessions without the Dorsey band (but with Dorsey's arranger Axel Stordahl and with Dorsey's approval) in January 1942. Sinatra left the Dorsey band late in 1942.
On December 31, 1942, Sinatra opened at the Paramount Theater in New York. It is there that 'Sinatramania' really began, an event which led Sinatra's rival Bing Crosby to jokingly declare: "Frank's the kind of singer that comes along once in a lifetime, but why did he have to come along in mine?"
During the musicians' strike of 1942–44, Columbia’s rereleased Harry James’ "All or Nothing at All", recorded in August 1939 and released before Sinatra had made a name for himself. The original release didn’t even mention the vocalist’s name. When the recording was re–released in 1943 with Sinatra’s name prominently displayed, the record was on the best–selling list for 18 weeks and reached number 2 on June 2, 1943.
In 1943, he signed with Columbia Records as a solo artist with initially great success, particularly during the musicians' recording strikes. Sinatra signed with Columbia on June 1, 1943, with the musicians' strike ten months old. And while no new records had been issued during the strike, he had been performing on the radio (on Your Hit Parade), and on stage. Columbia wanted to get new recordings of their growing star as fast as possible, so Sinatra convinced them to hire Alex Wilder as arranger and conductor for several sessions with a vocal group called the Bobby Tucker Singers. These first sessions were on June 7, June 22, August 5, and November 10, 1943. Of the nine songs recorded during these sessions, seven charted on the best–selling list.
When Sinatra returned to the Paramount in October 1944, 35,000 fans caused a near riot outside the venue because they were not allowed in. Dubbed "The Columbus Day Riot," it took the police several hours to defuse the situation.
In 1945, Sinatra co-starred with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. That same year, he was loaned out to RKO to star in a short film titled The House I Live In. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this film on tolerance and racial equality earned a special Academy Award shared among Sinatra and those who brought the film to the screen, along with a special Golden Globe for "Promoting Good Will." 1946 saw the release of his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, and the debut of his own weekly radio show.
By the end of 1948, Sinatra himself felt that his career was stalling, something that was confirmed when he slipped to No. 4 on Down Beat's annual poll of most popular singers (following Billy Eckstine, Frankie Laine, and Bing Crosby).
1949 saw an upswing, as Frank once again teamed up with Gene Kelly to co-star in Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It was well received critically and became a major commercial success. That same year, Sinatra would team up with Gene Kelly for a third time in On the Town.
In September 1951, Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut at the Desert Inn. A month later, a second series of the Frank Sinatra Show aired on CBS. On November 7, 1951, Sinatra married Ava Gardner. They had an extremely tempestuous relationship, and the ascent of Gardner's career seemed to coincide with the decline in Sinatra's career. They split up in 1953 and divorced in 1957.
The rebirth of Sinatra's career began with the eve-of-Pearl Harbor drama From Here to Eternity (1953), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. This role and performance mark the turnaround in Sinatra's career, in which he went from being in a critical and commercial decline for several years to an Oscar-winning actor and, once again, one of the top recording artists in the world.
In 1953, Sinatra signed with Capitol Records, where he worked with many of the finest musical arrangers of the era, most notably Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Mavis Rivers, and Billy May. Sinatra reinvented himself with a series of albums featuring darker emotional material, starting with In the Wee Small Hours (1955), and followed by Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely (1958), and Where Are You? (1957). He also developed a hipper, "swinging" persona, as heard on Swing Easy! (1954), Songs For Swingin' Lovers (1956), Come Fly With Me (1957).
By the end of the year, Billboard named "Young at Heart" Song of the Year, Swing Easy! with Nelson Riddle at the helm, (his second album for Capitol) was named Album of the Year and Sinatra was named "Top Male Vocalist" by Billboard, Down Beat and Metronome.
Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, a stark collection of introspective saloon songs and blues-tinged ballads, was a mammoth commercial success, peaking at #1 on Billboard's album chart during a 120-week stay. Cuts from this LP, such as "Angel Eyes" and "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," would remain staples of Sinatra's concerts throughout his life.
His fourth and final Timex special was broadcast the following March and secured massive viewing figures. Titled It's Nice to Go Travelling the show is more commonly known as Welcome Home Elvis having featured Elvis Presley on his first TV appearance in three years.
On January 27, 1961, Sinatra played a benefit show at Carnegie Hall for Martin Luther King, Jr. and would go on to play a major role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos in the 1960s. Sinatra led his fellow members of the Rat Pack and label-mates on Reprise in refusing to patronize hotels and casinos that wouldn't allow black singers to play live or wouldn't allow black patrons entry. He would often speak from the stage on desegregation. He would play more benefits for Martin Luther King, Jr. who, according to Frank Sinatra, Jr., at one point during a show in 1963 sat weeping as Sinatra sang Ol' Man River, the song from the musical Show Boat that, in the show, is sung by an African-American stevedore.
Over September 11 and 12, 1961, Sinatra recorded his final songs for Capitol Records.
In 1962, along with Janet Leigh and Laurence Harvey, he starred in the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate as Bennett Marco. That same year, Sinatra and Count Basie collaborated for the album Sinatra-Basie. This popular and successful release would prompt them to rejoin two years later for a follow-up It Might as Well Be Swing, which was arranged by Quincy Jones. One of Sinatra's more ambitious albums from the mid-1960s was The Concert Sinatra, which was recorded with a 73-piece symphony orchestra on 35mm tape.
Sinatra's first live album, Sinatra at the Sands, was recorded during January and February 1966 at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Backed by the Count Basie Band, with Quincy Jones serving as arranger, Sinatra at the Sands was released in August 1966, reaching #7 in the UK and #9 on Billboard.
In June 1965, Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin played live in St. Louis to benefit Dismas House. The concert was broadcast live via satellite to numerous movie theaters across America. Released in August 1965 was the Grammy Award–winning album of the year September of My Years, with a career anthology A Man and His Music followed in November, itself winning Album of the Year at the Grammys in 1966. The TV special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music garnered both an Emmy award and a Peabody Award.
In the spring, That's Life appeared, with both the single and album becoming Top Ten hits in the US on Billboard's pop charts. Strangers in the Night went on to top the Billboard and UK pop singles charts, winning the award for Record of the Year at the Grammys. The album of the same name also topped the Billboard chart and reached number 4 in the UK.
Sinatra would start 1967 with a series of recording sessions with Antonio Carlos Jobim. The album, Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim would reap critical plaudits before charting in March. Later in the year, a duet with daughter Nancy, "Somethin' Stupid", topped the Billboard pop and UK singles charts. In December, Sinatra collaborated with Duke Ellington on the album Francis A. & Edward K..
Watertown (1970) was one of Sinatra's most acclaimed concept albums, but was all but ignored by the public in commercial terms. Selling a mere 30,000 copies, and reaching a peak chart position of 101, its failure put an end to plans of a television special based on the album.
With Sinatra in mind, singer-songwriter Paul Anka wrote the song "My Way" inspired from the French "Comme d'habitude" ("As Usual"), composed by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. "My Way" would, perhaps, become more identified with him than any other over his seven decades as a singer. In the U.K. "My Way" was an immense success, spending a record 124 weeks on the singles chart, whilst the album of the same name peaked at #2 during a 51-week stay. On Billboard, the album would peak at #11.
In 1973, Sinatra came out of retirement with a television special and album, both entitled Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back. The album, arranged by Gordon Jenkins and Don Costa, was a great success, reaching number 13 on Billboard and number 12 in the UK. The TV special was highlighted by a dramatic reading of "Send in the Clowns" and a song and dance sequence with former co-star Gene Kelly.
In January 1974, Sinatra returned to Las Vegas, performing at Caesars Palace. This occurred, despite vowing in 1970 never to play Caesars Palace again, after the manager of the resort, Sanford Waterman, had pulled a gun on him during a heated argument. With Waterman recently sacked, the door was open for Sinatra to return.
In Australia, he caused an uproar by describing journalists there — who were aggressively pursuing his every move and pushing for a press conference — as "fags", "pimps", and "whores." Australian unions representing transport workers, waiters, and journalists all went on strike, demanding that Sinatra apologize for his remarks. Sinatra instead insisted that the journalists apologize for "fifteen years of abuse I have taken from the world press." The future Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, then the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) leader, also insisted that Sinatra apologize, and a settlement was eventually reached, to the apparent satisfaction of both parties, Sinatra's final show of his Australian tour was televised to the nation.
In October 1974, Sinatra appeared at New York City's Madison Square Garden, in a televised concert that was later released as an album under the title The Main Event – Live. Backing him was bandleader Woody Herman and the Young Thundering Herd, who accompanied Sinatra on a European tour later that month. The TV special would garner mostly positive reviews whilst the album — actually culled from various shows during his comeback tour — was only a moderate success, peaking at #37 on Billboard and #30 in the UK.
In 1979, in front of the Egyptian pyramids, Sinatra performed for Anwar Sadat. Back in Las Vegas, while celebrating 40 years in show business and his 64th birthday, he was awarded the Grammy Trustees Award during a party at Caesars Palace.
In 1980, Sinatra's first album in six years was released, Trilogy: Past Present Future, a highly ambitious triple album that found Sinatra recording songs from the past (pre-rock era) and present (rock era and contemporary) that he had overlooked during his career, while 'The Future' was a free-form suite of new songs linked a la musical theater by a theme, in this case, Sinatra pondering over the future. The album garnered six Grammy nominations — winning for best liner notes — and peaked at number 17 on Billboard's album chart, while spawning yet another song that would become a signature tune, "Theme from New York, New York" as well as Sinatra's much lauded (second) recording of George Harrison's "Something" (the first was not officially released on an album until 1972's Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits Vol. 2.)
The following year, Sinatra built on the success of Trilogy with She Shot Me Down, an album that revisited the dark tone of his Capitol years, and was praised by critics as a vintage late-period Sinatra. Sinatra would comment that it was "A complete saloon album... tear-jerkers and cry-in-your-beer kind of things."
Sinatra was embroiled in controversy in 1981 when he worked a ten-day engagement for $2 million in Sun City, South Africa. He was criticized for the trip by Jesse Jackson, and the United Nations special committee on Apartheid condemned Sinatra as a collaborator in Apartheid.
Frank Sinatra was selected as one of the five recipients of the 1983 Kennedy Center Honors, alongside Katharine Dunham, Jimmy Stewart, Elia Kazan and Virgil Thomson. Quoting Henry James in honoring Sinatra, Reagan said that "art was the shadow of humanity," and said that Sinatra had "spent his life casting a magnificent and powerful shadow."
Earlier that year, Sinatra had worked with Quincy Jones for the first time in nearly two decades on the album L.A. Is My Lady. Well received critically, L.A. Is My Lady came after an album of duets with Lena Horne, instigated by Jones, was abandoned after Horne developed vocal problems and Sinatra committed to other engagements, could not wait to record.
In December, as part of Sinatra's birthday celebrations, Patrick Pasculli, the Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, made a proclamation in his honor, declaring that "no other vocalist in history has sung, swung and crooned and serenaded into the hearts of the young and old... as this consummate artist from Hoboken". The same month Sinatra would give the first show of his Diamond Jubilee Tour at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
In 1993 Sinatra made a surprise return to Capitol Records and the recording studio for Duets, which was released in November. Sinatra’s duet with Bono on "I've Got You Under My Skin" contributed to the album's great commercial success, which reached #2 on the Billboard charts, and eventually selling over 2 million copies in the US alone.
The artists who added their vocals to the album worked for free, and a follow-up album (Duets II) was released in 1994, which reached #9 on the Billboard charts. Duets II marked Sinatra's last recording with Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as his last studio recordings, bringing to an end his 60-year recording career.
Still touring, despite various health problems, Sinatra would remain a top concert attraction on a global scale during the first half of the 1990s. At times, his memory seemed to fail him, and a fall onstage in Richmond, Virginia in 1994 signaled further problems.
Sinatra's final public concerts were held in Japan's Fukuoka Dome in December 1994. The following year, on February 25, 1995, at a private party for 1,200 select guests on the closing night of the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic golf tournament, Sinatra sang before a live audience for the very last time. Esquire Magazine reported of the show that Sinatra was "clear, tough, on the money" and "in absolute control." His closing song was "The Best is Yet to Come."
Sinatra was awarded the Legend Award at the 1994 Grammy Awards. He was introduced by Bono, who said of Sinatra "Frank's the chairman of the bad attitude... Rock 'n' Roll players have been tough, but this guy is the boss. The chairman of boss... I'm not going to mess with him, are you?" Sinatra called it "probably the best introduction I've ever had."
After suffering another heart attack, Frank Sinatra died at 10:50 pm on May 14, 1998 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, his wife Barbara by his side. He was 82 years old. Sinatra's final words, spoken as attempts were made to stabilize him, were "I'm losing." The next night the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. President Bill Clinton led tributes to Sinatra, stating that he had managed "to appreciate on a personal level what millions of people had appreciated from afar." Elton John stated that Sinatra, "was simply the best - no one else even comes close."
On May 20, 1998 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, Sinatra's funeral was held, with 400 mourners in attendance and hundreds of fans outside. Gregory Peck, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra, Jr. addressed the mourners, among whom were Jill St. John, Tom Selleck, Joey Bishop, Faye Dunaway, Tony Curtis, Liza Minnelli, Kirk Douglas, Robert Wagner, Don Rickles, Nancy Reagan, Angie Dickinson, Sophia Loren, Bob Newhart, Mia Farrow, and Jack Nicholson. The eulogy was given by minister and lifelong spiritual adviser to Frank Sinatra, Jairus Bellamy. A private ceremony was held later that day at St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Palm Springs. Sinatra was buried following the ceremony next to his parents in section B-8 of Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, a quiet cemetery on Ramon Road at the border of Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage, near his famous Rancho Mirage compound, located on tree-lined Frank Sinatra Drive. His close friend Jilly Rizzo is buried nearby in the same cemetery.
The words "The Best Is Yet to Come" are imprinted on his tombstone.
Stephen Holden wrote for the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide:
For a year Hoover investigated Sinatra's alleged Communist affiliations, but came up empty-handed. Readers learn that the budding star, to get an exemption from military service, told draft-board doctors that he had an irrational fear of crowds. The files include his rendezvous with prostitutes, and his extramarital affair with Ava Gardner, which preceded their marriage. Celebrities mentioned in the files are Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Peter Lawford, and Giancana's girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire.
The FBI's secret dossier on Sinatra was released in 1998 in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Sinatra remained a supporter of the Democratic Party until the late 1960s when he switched his allegiance to the Republican Party.
He donated $5,000 to the Democrats for the 1944 presidential election, and by the end of the campaign was appearing at two or three political events every day .
After World War II, Sinatra's politics grew steadily more left wing , and he became more publicly associated with the Popular Front. He started reading progressive literature, and supported many organisations that were later identified as front organizations of the Communist Party USA by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, though Sinatra was never brought before the Committee.
Sinatra spoke at a number of New Jersey high schools in 1945, where students had gone on strike in opposition to racial integration. Later that year Sinatra would appear in The House I Live In, a short film that stood against racism. The film was scripted by Albert Maltz, with the title song written by Earl Robinson and Abel Meeropol (under the pseudonym of Lewis Allen).
In January, 1961, Sinatra and Peter Lawford organized the Inaugural Gala in Washington, D.C., held on the evening before new President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office. The event, featuring many big show business stars, was an enormous success, raising a large amount of money for the Democratic Party. Sinatra also organized an Inaugural Gala in California in 1962 to welcome incoming Democratic Governor Pat Brown.
Sinatra's move towards the Republicans seems to have begun when he was snubbed by President Kennedy in favour of Bing Crosby, a rival singer and a Republican, for Kennedy's visit to Palm Springs in 1962. Kennedy had planned to stay at Sinatra's home over the Easter holiday weekend, but decided against doing so because of problems with Sinatra's connections to organized crime. Sinatra had invested a lot of his own money in upgrading the facilities at his home, in anticipation of the president's visit. President Kennedy's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was intensifying his own investigations into organized crime figures at the time, such as Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, who had earlier stayed at Sinatra's home. The President and Giancana were also sharing the favours of mistress Judith Campbell, who was in frequent contact with the president. Giancana's under-the-table influence had been critical in capturing Illinois for the Democrats in the presidential election of 1960.
After a lifetime of supporting Democratic presidential candidates, Sinatra supported Richard Nixon for re-election in the 1972 U.S. presidential election. In 1973, Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency, amid charges of bribery, extortion and tax fraud; Sinatra helped Agnew pay some of his legal bills that he faced after his exit from office.
In the 1980 U.S. presidential election, Sinatra supported Ronald Reagan, and donated $4 million to Reagan's campaign. Sinatra said he supported Reagan as he was “the proper man to be the President of the United States…it's so screwed up now, we need someone to straighten it out”. Reagan's victory gave Sinatra his closest relationship with the White House since the early 1960s, as a result of which Sinatra arranged Reagan's Presidential gala, as he had done for John F. Kennedy, some 20 years previously.
In 1984 Sinatra returned to his birthplace in Hoboken, New Jersey, bringing President Reagan with him who was in the midst of campaigning for the 1984 U.S. presidential election. Reagan had made Sinatra a fund-raising ambassador as part of the Republicans' 'Victory 84’ get-the-vote-out-drive.