Frank Sinatra Biography
In 1965, Sinatra 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". In 1967, 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. With sales of his music dwindling and after appearing in several poorly received films, Sinatra retired for the first time in 1971. Two years later, however, he came out of retirement and from 1973 recorded several albums, scoring a Top 40 hit with "(Theme From) New York, New York" in 1980. 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 also forged a highly successful career as a film actor. After winning an Oscar in 1954, he also starred in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), and received critical acclaim for his performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). He also starred in such musicals as On the Town (1949), Guys and Dolls (1955), High Society (1956), and Pal Joey (1957).
Sinatra is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. He was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983, 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. One of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century, Sinatra's popularity was later matched only by Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. American music critic Robert Christgau called him "the greatest singer of the 20th century".
Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915, in an upstairs tenement in Hoboken, New Jersey.[a] 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.[b] 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 was delayed for several months. 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 kid, and "knocked him around a lot". Dolly had a gift for languages, she served as a local interpreter, and became influential in Hoboken and in local Democratic Party circles. She also 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.[c] Sinatra'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 parent's tavern in Hoboken,[d] 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, and neighbors described 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.
"They'd fought through his childhood and continued to do so until her dying day. But I believe that to counter her steel will he'd developed his own. To prove her wrong when she belittled his choice of career ... Their friction first had shaped him; that, I think, had remained to the end and a litmus test of the grit in his bones. It helped keep him at the top of his game."
—Sinatra's daughter Nancy on the importance of his mother Dolly in his life and character.
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,[e] 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.
Sinatra began singing professionally as a teenager, but he learned music by ear and never learned to read music.He got his first break in 1935 when his mother persuaded a local singing group, the Three Flashes, to let him join. Fred Tamburro, the group's baritone, stated that "Frank hung around us like we were gods or something", admitting they only took him on board because he owned a car[f] and could chauffeur the group around. Sinatra soon learned they were auditioning for the Major Bowes Amateur Hour show, and "begged" the group to let him in on the act. With Sinatra, the group became known as the Hoboken Four, and passed an audition from Edward Bowes to appear on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour show. They each earned $12.50 for the appearance, and ended up attracting 40,000 votes and won first prize—a six-month contract to perform on stage and radio across the United States. Sinatra quickly became the group's lead singer, and, much to the jealousy of his fellow group members, garnered most of the attention from girls.[g] Due to the success of the group, Bowes kept asking for them to return, disguised under different names, varying from "The Seacaucus Cockamamies" to "The Bayonne Bacalas".
In 1938, Sinatra found employment as a singing waiter at a roadhouse called "The Rustic Cabin" in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, for which he was paid $15 a week. The roadhouse was connected to the WNEW radio station in New York City, and Sinatra began performing with a group live during the Dance Parade show. Despite the low salary, he felt that this was the break he was looking for, and boasted to friends that he was going to "become so big that no one could ever touch him". In March 1939, saxophone player Frank Mane, who knew Sinatra from Jersey City radio station WAAT where both performed on live broadcasts, arranged for Sinatra to audition and record "Our Love", his first solo studio recording.[h] In June 1939, bandleader Harry James, who had heard Sinatra sing on "Dance Parade" signed a two-year contract of $75 a week one evening after a show at the Paramount Theatre in New York.[i] It was with the James band that Sinatra released his first commercial record "From the Bottom of My Heart" in July 1939. No more than 8,000 copies of the record were sold, and further records released with James through 1939, such as "All or Nothing At All", also had weak sales on their initial release. Thanks to his vocal training, Sinatra could now sing two tones higher, and developed a repertoire which included songs such as "My Buddy", "Willow Weep for Me", "It's Funny to Everyone But Me", "Here Comes the Night", "On a Little Street in Singapore", "Ciribiribin" and "Every Day of My Life".
Sinatra became increasingly frustrated with the status of the Harry James band, feeling that he was not achieving the major success and acclaim he was looking for. His pianist and close friend Hank Sanicola persuaded him to stay with the group, but in November 1939 he left James to replace Jack Leonard[j] as the lead singer of the Tommy Dorsey band. Sinatra signed a contract with Dorsey for $125 a week at Palmer House in Chicago, and James agreed amicably to release Sinatra from his contract.[k] On January 26, 1940, he made his first public appearance with the band at the Coronado Theatre in Rockford, Illinois, opening the show with "Stardust". Dorsey recalled: You could almost feel the excitement coming up out of the crowds when the kid stood up to sing. Remember, he was no matinée idol. He was just a skinny skid with big ears. I used the stand there so amazed I'd almost forget to take my own solos". Dorsey was a major influence on Sinatra and became a father figure. Sinatra copied Dorsey's mannerisms and traits, becoming a demanding perfectionist like him, and even adopting his hobby of toy trains. He made Dorsey the godfather of Sinatra's daughter Nancy in June 1940.Sinatra later said that "The only two people I've ever been afraid of are my mother and Tommy Dorsey". Though Kelley claims that Sinatra and drummer Buddy Rich were bitter rivals,[l] other authors state that they were friends and even roommates when the band was on the road, but professional jealousy surfaced as both men wanted to be considered the star of Dorsey’s band. Later, Sinatra helped Rich form his own band with a $25,000 loan and provided financial help to Rich during times of the drummer’s serious illness.
In his first year with Dorsey, Sinatra released over forty songs. Sinatra's first vocal hit was the song Polka Dots and Moonbeams in late April 1940. Two more chart appearances followed with "Say It" and "Imagination", which was Sinatra's first top-10 hit. His fourth chart appearance was "I'll Never Smile Again", topping the charts for twelve weeks beginning in mid-July. Other singles released on the Victor label with Tommy Dorsey include "Our Love Affair" and "Stardust" in 1940; "Oh! Look at Me Now", "Dolores", "Everything Happens to Me" and "This Love of Mine" in 1941; "Just as Though You Were There", "Take Me" and "There Are Such Things" in 1942; and "It Started All Over Again", "In the Blue of Evening" and "It's Always You" in 1943.As his success and popularity grew, Sinatra pushed Dorsey to allow him to record some solo songs. Dorsey eventually relented, and on January 19, 1942, Sinatra recorded "Night and Day, "The Night We Called It a Day", "The Song is You" and "Lamplighter's Serenade" at a Bluebird recording session, with Axel Stordahl as arranger and conductor. Sinatra first heard the recordings at the Hollywood Palladium and Hollywood Plaza and was astounded at how good he sounded. Stordahl recalled: "He just couldn't believe his ears. He was so excited. you almost believed he had never recorded before. I think this was a turning point in his career. I think he began to see what he might do on his own".
After the 1942 recordings, Sinatra believed he needed to go solo, with an insatiable desire to compete with Bing Crosby,[m] but he was hampered by his contract which gave Dorsey 43% of Sinatra's lifetime earnings in the entertainment industry. A legal battle ensued, eventually settled in August 1943.[n] On September 3, 1942, Dorsey bid farewell to Sinatra, reportedly saying as Sinatra left, "I hope you fall on your ass", He replaced Sinatra with singer Dick Haymes. Rumors began spreading in newspapers that Sinatra's mobster godfather, Willie Moretti, coerced Dorsey to let Sinatra out of his contract for a few thousand dollars, holding a gun to his head.[o] Sinatra persuaded Stordahl to leave Dorsey with him and become his personal arranger, offering him $650 a month, five times the salary of Dorsey. Dorsey and Sinatra, who had been very close, never patched up their differences before Dorsey's death in 1956, worsened by the fact that Dorsey occasionally made biting comments to the press such as "he's the most fascinating man in the world, but don't put your hand in the cage".
In 1970, Sinatra released Watertown, one of his most acclaimed concept albums, with music by Bob Gaudio (of the Four Seasons) and lyrics by Jake Holmes. However, it sold a mere 30,000 copies that year and reached a peak chart position of 101. He left Caesars Palace in September after an incident where executive Sanford Waterman pulled a gun on him.[v] He performed several charity concerts with Count Basie at the Royal Festival Hall in London. On November 2, 1970, Sinatra recorded the last songs for Reprise Records before his self-imposed retirement, announced the following June at a concert in Hollywood to raise money for the Motion Picture and TV Relief Fund. He finished the performance with a "rousing" performance of "That's Life", and stated "Excuse me while I disappear" as he left the stage. Barbara Sinatra claimed that Sinatra had grown "tired of entertaining people, especially when all they really wanted were the same old tunes he had long ago become bored by". While he was in retirement, President Richard Nixon asked him to perform at a Young Voters Rally in anticipation of the upcoming campaign. Sinatra obliged and chose to sing "My Kind of Town" for the rally held in Chicago on October 20, 1972.
In 1973, Sinatra came out of his short-lived 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 success, reaching number 13 on Billboard and number 12 in the UK. He initially developed problems with his vocal chords during the comeback due to a prolonged period without singing. That Christmas he performed at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, and returned to Caesars Palace the following month in January 1974, despite previously vowing to perform there again. He began what Barbara Sinatra describes as a "massive comeback tour of the United States, Europe, the Far East and Australia". In July, while on a second tour of Australia, he caused an uproar by describing journalists there – who were aggressively pursuing his every move and pushing for a press conference – as "bums, parasites, fags, and buck-and-a-half hookers". After he was pressured to apologize, Sinatra instead insisted that the journalists apologize for "fifteen years of abuse I have taken from the world press". In the end, Sinatra's lawyer, Mickey Rudin, arranged a final concert which was televised to the nation, and Sinatra was given the opportunity to say "I love your attitude, I love your booze" to the Australian people. In October 1974, 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.
In 1975, Sinatra performed in concerts in New York with Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald, at the London Palladium with Basie and Sarah Vaughan, giving 140 performances in 105 days. In August he held several consecutive concerts at Lake Tahoe together with the newly-risen singer John Denver, who became a frequent collaborator. Sinatra had recorded Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "My Sweet Lady" for Sinatra & Company (1971),and according to Denver, his song "A Baby Just Like You" was written at Sinatra's request for his new grandchild, Angela. During the Labor Day weekend held in 1976, Sinatra was responsible for reuniting old friends and comedy partners Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis for the first time in nearly twenty years, when they performed at the "Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon". That year, the Friars Club selected him as the "Top Box Office Name of the Century", and he was given the Scopus Award by the American Friends of Hebrew University in Israel and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Nevada.
Sinatra continued to perform at Caesars Palace in the late 1970s, and was performing there in January 1977 when his mother Dolly died in a plane crash on the way to see him. He cancelled two weeks of shows and spent time recovering from the shock in Barbados. In March, he performed in front of Princess Margaret at the Royal Albert Hall in London, raising money for the NSPCC. In 1978, Sinatra filed a $1 million lawsuit against a land developer for using his name in the "Frank Sinatra Drive Center" in West Los Angeles. During a party at Caesars in 1979, he was awarded the Grammy Trustees Award, while celebrating 40 years in show business and his 64th birthday. That year President Gerald Ford awarded Sinatra the International Man of the Year Award, and he performed in front of the Egyptian pyramids for Anwar Sadat, which raised more than $500,000 for Sadat's wife's charities.
In 1980, Sinatra's first album in six years was released, Trilogy: Past Present Future, a highly ambitious triple album that features an array of songs from both the pre-rock era and rock era. 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". That year, as part of the Concert of the Americas, he performed in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which broke records for the "largest live paid audience ever recorded for a solo performer". The following year, Sinatra built on the success of Trilogy with She Shot Me Down, an album that was praised for embodying the dark tone of his Capitol years. Also in 1981, Sinatra was embroiled in controversy when he worked a ten-day engagement for $2 million in Sun City, in the internationally unrecognized Bophuthatswana, breaking a cultural boycott against apartheid-era South Africa. President Lucas Mangope awarded Sinatra with the highest honor, the Order of the Leopard, and made him an honorary tribal chief.
Sinatra signed a $16 million three-year deal with the Golden Nugget Las Vegas in 1982
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. In 1982 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 Quincy 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.[x] In 1986, Sinatra collapsed on stage while performing in Atlantic City and was hospitalized for diverticulitis in 1986, which left him looking frail In 1988, 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.