A Hundred Years of Frank Sinatra

The son of Italian immigrants, Francis Albert ‘Frank’ Sinatra started out singing for tips at age eight. He was expelled from high school long before graduating and earned his keep for some time by working as a delivery boy and then a riveter, also singing professionally while still a teenager. In 1935, his mother talked him into joining what then became the Hoboken Four, an amateur singing group that managed to win a six-month contract performing across the United States.
In 1939, Frank Sinatra signed a contract with Harry James, with whose band he released his first commercial album, From the Bottom of my Heart. Soon after, Tommy Dorsey invited him to join his band, which vastly increased Frank Sinatra’s public visibility (his contract, however, awarded Dorsey a third of his lifetime earnings in the entertainment industry, until Jules C Stein eventually bought him out of the contract for $75 000. An unfounded rumour that Sinatra’s mob connections had brought this about would ultimately inspire the film, The Godfather).
When Frank Sinatra’s solo career commenced with The Voice of Frank Sinatra, he was the original teen idol, the heartthrob of a multitude of near-riotous, screaming ‘bobby-soxers’, at a time when most music was marketed at adults. Frank Sinatra went on to a career notable both for its broad range of appeal – he was popular with all ages, and across races – and, despite the inevitable ups and downs, its longevity: over the course of six decades, he released more than 1 400 recordings, scoring 31 gold, nine platinum, three double platinum and one triple platinum album from the Recording Industry Association of America. Frank Sinatra also starred in more than 60 films and produced eight motion pictures. More than a decade and a half after his death, ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ continues to be one of the greatest selling musical artists of all time, having sold in excess of 150 million copies of his albums worldwide. All of which saw Sinatra being awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from The Recording Academy and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as the Kennedy Centre Honours – where then President Reagan noted that Sinatra had ‘spent his life casting a magnificent and powerful shadow’ – the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Alongside his many musical and film achievements, Frank Sinatra earned himself a colourful reputation for his lifestyle. He was known as a ‘ladies man’ with four marriages to his name, including fairly short-lived marriages to the glamorous Ava Gardner and a young Mia Farrow, as well as longer marriages to his first wife, Nancy Barbado (with whom he had three children) and his last wife, Barbara Manx. He was a founder member of the Rat Pack, the often emulated stars of the original Ocean’s 11, and although he did not serve during the Second World War, supported the war effort and performed for the troops through a number of USO tours. He was also continually dogged by shadowy rumours of alleged links to organised crime, and was apparently plagued by depression, once describing himself as an ‘18 karat manic depressive’.
Perhaps less well known, however, is that throughout his life, Sinatra was a tireless campaigner towards racial desegregation and equality, writing for Ebony magazine that ‘a friend to me has no race, no class and belongs to no minority. My friendships are formed out of affection, mutual respect and a feeling of having something in common.’ After his death, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Laura Washington described Sinatra as ‘a white megastar who promoted civil rights for African-Americans at a time when few whites, and certainly not the prominent and wealthy, even acknowledged we existed.’ Wikipedia notes that he ‘often [stepped] in to demand apologies for a racist incident and abolishing of Jim Crow policies before he would fulfil his show contract… and led his fellow Rat Pack members and Reprise label mates in boycotting hotels and casinos that refused entry to black patrons and performers… [He also] often spoke from the stage on desegregation and repeatedly played benefits on behalf of Dr King and his movement.’ His contribution to the fight for civil rights for African Americans ultimately earned him a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
A true showman, Sinatra continued performing until only a few years prior to his death. In 1995, he made his last televised appearance, singing ‘New York, New York’. He died in 1998, but continues to be honoured as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century.

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