Throwback Thursday: Frank Sinatra – A Performer for the Generations
From legendary baritone to Academy Award winning movie star, Frank Sinatra stood at the forefront of an entire generation of crooners and is rightfully known as one of the most successful singers and performers of the 20th century with his recordings having sold over 150 million copies worldwide.
Born to Italian immigrants on December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Frank Sinatra was an enterprising yet frequently undisciplined youth who began singing for tips at the age of 8 at a neighborhood bar. After dropping out of school (or by some accounts being kicked out of high school) the teenage Sinatra began singing professionally in the 1930’s. Completely self-taught, Frank would never read music and learned everything by ear.
During the late ‘30s, minor radio coverage of Sinatra’s nightclub stints demonstrated the young singer’s talents to bandleader Harry James, with whom Sinatra made some of his earliest recordings. Then in 1939, Sinatra was asked by popular bandleader Tommy Dorsey to join his band. Wildly successful at the time, the Tommy Dorsey Band featured the 25 year old Frank Sinatra for the first time in January of 1940. Sinatra went on to record 80 or so songs with the Dorsey Band and he claimed to have taught himself breath control by watching trombone virtuoso Tommy Dorsey play each night.
Unable to serve during WWII due to a punctured eardrum, Sinatra continued his meteoric rise to stardom while serenading the lonely young women left stateside, while riots were reported at some of his shows. Such fanfare was attributed to the fact that the still youthful Frank Sinatra appealed to teen audiences unlike many of the big band singers before him. Additionally, the early to mid ‘40s saw the start of Sinatra’s acting career, with the multi-talented performer winning a special Academy Award as a cast member of 1945’s The House I Live In.
Following the war, Sinatra’s popularity waned as he began to show signs of aging in his mid-30s and as a result he lost recording and film work. However, August 5, 1953, saw the release of the drama From Here to Eternity in which Sinatra was cast as a soldier stationed in Hawaii prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sinatra subsequently won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie and his then rocky career was once again propelled to prominence. The 1950’s also marked the period in which Sinatra was married to Hollywood femme fatale Ava Gardner. Frank’s marriage to the beautiful actress was characterized as both intense and tumultuous and was over prior to the decade’s end.
With Sinatra on top of the entertainment world by the mid 1960’s, the singer was credited for both creating and performing with the “Rat Pack,” a sensational super-group of sorts comprised of Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. Throughout the ‘60s, Sinatra and the rest of the “Pack” were able to balance a sense of class and sophistication lauded and appreciated by older generations with the martini-downing, chain-smoking, women-juggling, and dice-rolling ethos of a younger, more rebellious crowd. Musically, 1964’s “Fly Me to the Moon” remains the quintessence of Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” era style and class with his clear vocals effortlessly hovering over the jazzy flourishes of the up-tempo tune.
The next two decades saw Sinatra go into retirement, successfully return with well-received music, change record labels a handful of times, and, in 1981, release what many consider to be his last great album – She Shot Me Down. In 1993, Frank released Duets, a commercially successful album that once again brought the then 77 year old singer’s music to a younger generation.
Frank Sinatra performed for the final time in 1995 at the Palm Desert Marriott Hotel ballroom in California. Following a number of on-going health problems throughout the mid ‘90s, Frank Sinatra died from a heart attack on May 14, 1998. Sinatra will be remembered by his legions of fans around the world as one of the most recognizable and successful singers and performers of the 20th century and will be forever immortalized by the countless classic recordings he left for current and future generations to enjoy.