Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)

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Frank Sinatra
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Frank Sinatra became a show business legend. He sang to packed out venues everywhere. He started out a teenage heartthrob as bobbysoxers swooned but he was more than just an overnight sensation, much more. He became the most famous performer in the world and his recordings continue to appeal to audiences of all ages today.

He also became an accomplished actor, winning an Academy Award for his performance in 1953 in 'From Here To Eternity'.

During his life Sinatra developed a lifestyle reputation for fast-living. He was seen as a man about town, with a tough guy image that earned him the nickname "The Chairman of the Board." In the 1960's he was the acknowledged leader of the Hollywood 'Rat Pack' which included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and others.

Musically he was beloved and admired as he developed a warm, heartfelt style of interpreting standards like Come Fly With Me, New York, New York, All the Way, and Strangers in the Night . He is undoubtedly one of the 20th Century's major influences on popular music.


He was born Francis Albert Sinatra on December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New York, the only child of Italian immigrants. His parents had both emigrated from mainland Italy in the 1890s, and, as his father, Anthony had a secure job in the Fire Department, the family enjoyed a reasonable standard of living. His mother, Natalina, known as Dolly, was a former midwife who worked part time with the Democratic Party in Hoboken.

Young Francis had no interest in formal education and was expelled from his high school for misbehaviour. He took work wherever he could, first of all as a newspaper delivery boy and then as a riveter at a local shipyard. His youthful hero was crooner Bing Crosby whom he saw perform live, an event that inspired him to become a solo vocalist. Singing became a preoccupation and he was particularly interested to the big band jazz music of the time.

The Hoboken Four

His mother first found singing work for him in a local group called The Three Flashes, later changing to The Hoboken Four when he joined them. In September 1935 they took part in a talent contest on the local radio show "Major Bowes Amateur Hour" and won first prize, which was a 6 month tour performing on stage and radio across the country.

On his return he took a job as an MC and singing waiter at a venue called the Rustic Cabin in New Jersey. The pay was poor, but the events were broadcast by radio across New York. Frank's audience was increasing.

In 1939, the wife of bandleader Harry James persuaded her husband to give Frank a job, after hearing him on the radio, and Sinatra began touring with James. Later in the same year, he met bandleader, Tommy Dorsey, who invited him to join his band as vocalist. Dorsey's band was renowned throughout the country and Sinatra recognised a career-changing opportunity. The two had an instant rapport, and Sinatra left James's band for Dorsey's. Sinatra was about to become famous.

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra 1940

In 1940, 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. His records sold in large quantities and he gradually achieved national, rather than just local, fame. He became known as The Voice - a crooner whose romantic love songs and relaxed style caused crowds of young girls - called bobby-soxers - to scream and swoon. In 1941 he was named Male Vocalist of the Year by Billboard Magazine.

Solo Career 1942

In September 1942, Sinatra decided to go solo and more success followed swiftly. He began touring as part of a concert series devoted to movie music. He also performed two radio shows a week, including "Your Hit Parade," and did live shows up and down the West Coast.

Sinatra was exempted from military service during World War II due to a punctured eardrum and during the war years he had many hits including "When Your Lover is Gone," "The Song Is You," "Fools Rush In," "Begin the Beguine"and "I've Got a Crush on You." In 1943, he made his debut at New York's Madison Square Garden and followed it with a sensational concert at the Hollywood Bowl before an audience of more than 10,000 people.

Hollywood 1943

In a few years Sinatra had become one of the most famous entertainers in America, second in popularity only to Bing Crosby, and Hollywood producers soon took notice. Sinatra's first movie appearance had been uncredited as a singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 'Las Vegas Nights' in 1941 and 'Ship Ahoy' in 1942. In 1943 he became a movie actor in his own right when he signed a seven-year contract with RKO, and appeared in a string of light musical films, including 'Higher and Higher' in 1943 and 'Step Lively' the following year.

The movies were lightweight but showcased Sinatra well and caught the attention of Louis B. Mayer of MGM who bought out his contract with RKO and signed him to an MGM $1.5 million contract. In 1945, he had his first starring role alongside Gene Kelly, in 'Anchors Aweigh'. The film was a success, and sparked a string of similar movies including the highly rated 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game' and 'On The Town' also with Kelly in 1949.

Ava Gardner

After the war he started a public romance with the temperamental actress Ava Gardner which led directly to his first wife, Nancy, divorcing him. Sinatra married Gardner in 1951, but then hit a downward spiral. Within two years they had separated, leading to a divorce in 1957. Losing her hit Sinatra very hard.

He also had other problems to face. In February 1947, he had suffered a public blow when a newspaper connected him with deported Mafia boss Charles "Lucky" Luciano. It was the first of many such reports which linked him with Mafia gangsters.

Also during the 1940s, other newspaper reports had attacked Sinatra, describing him as a vicious physical bully. In addition the House Un-American Activities Committee labelled him a Red - a Communist sympathizer - and he was forced to go cap in hand to Washington to try to deny it. All to no avail. He lost his radio shows and had his contract ended by MGM studios.

The cumulative effect of these setbacks took its physical toll. He lost weight rapidly, drank heavily and suffered recurrent throat problems. But he fought back and, resourceful as ever, he was able re-find himself through another medium - the movies.

Movie Stardom 1953

Sinatra worked hard to obtain the role of Private Maggio in the 1953 film "From Here to Eternity". He bombarded studio head Harry Cohn with letters and telegrams. His tenacity paid off and Cohn gave him the role. He surprised critics with his accurate portrayal of the skinny, street-wise character and earned himself an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

So began Sinatra's successful movie career. To great acclaim he played Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," a drug addict in "The Man with the Golden Arm" and a prying journalist in the evergreen "High Society," with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.

At this time he took an active interest in politics, befriending J F Kennedy, supporting Democratic candidates generally, and winning many friends and admirers by his fight against racism.

Singing Comeback

As well as movie success he was able to resurrect his recording and singing career, and he re-invented himself as a sophisticated man about town, tough and scarred by life and love but still a romantic. His voice had changed. It was deeper, richer and more meaningful. He constantly worked with the best arrangers and conductors, such as Billy May and Nelson Riddle and some of his most successful albums were made in this period - including "Songs for Young Lovers," and "Only the Lonely".

In 1961, Sinatra founded his own record label, Reprise Records and began to produce more classic albums. "Moonlight Sinatra," "Strangers in the Night" and "Sinatra and Strings," rate highly alongside his best output. His hard work and tenacity had paid off. He was now a major international superstar.

Middle Years

In his middle age, at the very height of his fame, Sinatra entered another phase of boozing immaturity. He spent days drinking and carousing with cronies including Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Shirley MacLaine, who called Sinatra "Chairman of the Board" and "Il Padrone." They were known as 'The Rat Pack' and they performed on stage together, partied together and made several movies together. Hollywood has historically used gambling to add a flavor to a movie. In the 21st century poker has increased significantly in popularity, which has been reflected in films with some classic card playing scenes such as Sinatra's 'Oceans Eleven' in 1960. This was followed by Sergeants 3 (1962), Four for Texas (1963), and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) which also reflected the lifestyle of burning the candle at both ends.

Despite his increasingly bacchanalian private life, Sinatra did not ignore his artistic ambitions. In 1966 alone, he released "Strangers in the Night," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Summer Wind" and "That's Life", all of them hits. He won five Grammys in 1965 and 1966 and at the end of the decade he made the single that would become his theme song until he died, and which he called his National Anthem: "My Way."

He continued to give some good movie performances, particularly playing a Korean War vet in the 1962 Cold War thriller, "The Manchurian Candidate."

In 1966, he wed actress Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior. They divorced just 17 months later. Sinatra made the first of a number of retirements in 1971. He was far from finished, however, and in 1973 released the television special and album, Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back. He appeared sporadically on TV (Who's the Boss and others) and in film throughout the 1980's.

In 1976, he married again, to Barbara Marx, former wife of the Marx Brother Zeppo. The couple remained together until Sinatra's death more than two decades later. She provided a much needed stability to his life. Frank Sinatra finally settled down.

Final Years

After 1980 Sinatra lived a relatively sedate life. He developed a friendship with Republican Ronald Reagan and he received many high-profile awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian accolade. He had always been a strong suporter of good causes and he funded many non-profit foundations, including a wing at the Atlantic City Medical Center.

As he aged his musical output slowed. In the last 16 years of his life, Sinatra recorded just five new albums including "Duets I & II," with past and present recording stars and which won him two more Grammys.

His star rose again In the '90s, thanks to the success of "Duets". Also the culture of the Rat Pack period made an unexpected reappearance; the hard-drinking, hip lifestyle became fashionable once more. A torrent of articles, musical appreciation books and Sinatra movies and TV shows flooded the media, along with reissued Sinatra discs and vintage films of Sinatra concerts.

Sinatra made his final retirement from public performances in his 80th year in 1995. He was not seen in public since suffering a heart attack in January 1997 and he finally passed away at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in California on May 14, 1998. The lights of the Las Vegas strip were dimmed in his honour. He was interred at Desert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, California.


Frank Sinatra was completely unique. There has never been anyone quite like him. His death marked the end of an incredible era of popular music that stretched from 1939, when he made his big band debut, through a roller-coaster ride that took him from the height of fame to the depths, then back again.

As a movie star and as a celebrity, Sinatra is so much of an icon that it is easy to overlook his very real musical talent, which was the actual source of his fame. As he grew older, he became more serious and introspective, sometimes more personal, as a singer. He sought new material and different arrangements as he consciously evolved his vocal style. He had an uncanny ability to choose just the right material to sing. Similarly, in films he turned from youthful, singing roles to serious, dramatic ones during the 1950s as he re-established his career through movies.

Ultimately it is the music, the Sinatra Voice that we remember. The Voice has given Frank Sinatra an immortality which eclipses the scandals and domestic problems of his life. The Voice is reassuring, it reinforces the old fashioned values of love and marriage. We still hear the Voice today, world-weary, tender and rich. The name and voice of Frank Sinatra will never be forgotten.

Frank Sinatra Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actor ... From Here to Eternity (1953)
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actor ... The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
Honorary Award:
Won Honorary Award for short subject 'Tolerance', singing 'The House I Live In'. (1945)
Won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. (1971)

Frank Sinatra Filmography

Las Vegas Nights (uncredited)
Ship Ahoy (uncredited)
Reveille with Beverly
Higher and Higher
Step Lively
Anchors Aweigh
It Happened in Brooklyn
The Miracle of the Bells
The Kissing Bandit
Everybody's Cheering
On the Town
Double Dynamite
Meet Danny Wilson
Young at Heart