Sinatra is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide. He was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 and 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 had a popularity that 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”.
1935–40: Start of career, work with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey
Sinatra got his first break in 1935 when his mother persuaded a local singing group, The Three Flashes, to let him join. With Sinatra, the group became known as the Hoboken Four, and they sufficiently impressed Edward Bowes. After appearing on his show, Major Bowes Amateur Hour, they attracted 40,000 votes and won first prize – a six-month contract to perform on stage and radio across the United States.
Sinatra left the Hoboken Four and returned home in late 1935. His mother secured him a job as a singing waiter and MC at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, for which he was paid $15 a week.
On March 18, 1939, Sinatra made a demo recording of a song called “Our Love”, with the Frank Mane band. The record has “Frank Sinatra” signed on the front. The bandleader kept the original record in a safe for nearly 60 years. In June, Harry James hired Sinatra on a one-year contract of $75 a week.
It was with the James band that Sinatra released his first commercial record “From the Bottom of My Heart” in July 1939 – US Brunswick No. 8443 and UK Columbia #DB2150. In September 1940, Sinatra, after playing with Tommy Dorsey at Old Orchard Beach Pier, surprised nightclubbers in Portland, Maine, by turning up at the Morocco Lounge. “It was way before he became famous.”
Fewer than 8,000 copies of “From the Bottom of My Heart” (Brunswick No. 8443) were sold, making the record a very rare find that is sought after by record collectors worldwide.
Sinatra released ten commercial tracks with James through 1939, including “All or Nothing At All” which had weak sales on its initial release, but then sold millions of copies when re-released by Columbia at the height of Sinatra’s popularity a few years later.
In November 1939, in a meeting at the Palmer House in Chicago, Sinatra was asked by bandleader Tommy Dorsey to join his band as a replacement for Jack Leonard (the vocalist, not to be confused with the comedian Jack E. Leonard), who had recently left to launch a solo career. This meeting was a turning point in Sinatra’s career.
By signing with Dorsey’s band, one of the hottest at the time, he greatly increased his visibility with the American public. Though Sinatra was still under contract with James, James recognized the opportunity Dorsey offered and graciously released Sinatra from his contract. Sinatra recognized his debt to James throughout his life and upon hearing of James’ death in 1983, stated: “he [James] is the one that made it all possible.”
On January 26, 1940, Sinatra made his first public appearance with the Dorsey band at the Coronado Theater in Rockford, Illinois. In his first year with Dorsey, Sinatra released more than forty songs, with “I’ll Never Smile Again” topping the charts for twelve weeks beginning in mid-July.
Sinatra’s relationship with Tommy Dorsey was troubled, because of their contract, which awarded Dorsey one-third of Sinatra’s lifetime earnings in the entertainment industry. In January 1942, Sinatra recorded his first solo sessions without the Dorsey band (but with Dorsey’s arranger Axel Stordahl and with Dorsey’s approval).
These sessions were released commercially on the Bluebird label. On September 3, 1942, Dorsey bid a fond farewell to Sinatra, replacing him with singer Dick Haymes. But an incident started rumors of Sinatra’s involvement with the Mafia.
A story appeared in the Hearst newspapers that mobster and Sinatra’s Godfather Willie Moretti coerced Dorsey to let Sinatra out of his contract for a few thousand dollars, and was fictionalized in the book and movie The Godfather.
According to Nancy Sinatra’s biography, the Hearst rumors were started because of Frank’s Democratic politics. In fact, the contract was bought out by MCA founder Jules C. Stein for $75,000.
1990s: Duets, final performances
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. The album and its sequel, Duets II, would see Sinatra remake his classic recordings with popular contemporary performers, who added their vocals to a pre-recorded tape.
Still touring despite various health problems, Sinatra remained a top concert attraction on a global scale during the first half of the 1990s. At times during concerts his memory failed him and a fall onstage in Richmond, Virginia, in March 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 1200 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 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, 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?”Sinatra called it “the best welcome … I ever had”, but his acceptance speech ran too long and was abruptly cut off, leaving him looking confused and talking into a dead microphone.
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.
At the end of the program Sinatra graced the stage for the last time to sing the final notes of “New York, New York” with an ensemble. It was Sinatra’s last televised appearance.
In recognition of his many years of association with Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 1997.
Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, aged 82, after suffering a fatal heart attack. Sinatra had suffered from ill health for the last few years of his life, and had been frequently hospitalized for heart and breathing problems, high blood pressure, pneumonia and bladder cancer, as well as suffering from dementia.
He had made no public appearances following a heart attack in February 1997. Sinatra died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, with his wife, Barbara, by his side.
She had encouraged him to “fight” while attempts were made to stabilize him, and his final words were, “I’m losing.”Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, later wrote that she and her sister, Nancy, had not been notified of their father’s final hospitalization, and it was her belief that “the omission was deliberate.
Barbara would be the grieving widow alone at her husband’s side.” The night after Sinatra’s death, the lights on the Empire State Building in New York City were turned blue.
Sinatra’s funeral was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, California, on May 20, 1998, with 400 mourners in attendance and thousands of fans outside. Gregory Peck, Tony Bennett, and Sinatra’s son, Frank, Jr. addressed the mourners, who included many notable people from film and entertainment.
Sinatra was buried with mementos from family members including cherry-flavored Life Savers, Tootsie Rolls, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a pack of Camel cigarettes and a Zippo lighter, stuffed toys, and a dog biscuit, next to his parents in section B-8 of Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California. His close friends, Jilly Rizzo and Jimmy Van Heusen, are buried nearby. The words “The Best Is Yet to Come” are imprinted on Sinatra’s grave marker.
Main article: Frank Sinatra discography
The Voice of Frank Sinatra (1946)
Songs by Sinatra (1947)
Christmas Songs by Sinatra (1948)
Frankly Sentimental (1949)
Dedicated to You (1950)
Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra (1950)
Songs for Young Lovers (1954)
Swing Easy! (1954)
In the Wee Small Hours (1955)
Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956)
Close to You (1957)
A Swingin’ Affair! (1957)
Where Are You? (1957)
A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957)
Come Fly with Me (1958)
Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958)
Come Dance with Me! (1959)
No One Cares (1959)
Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960)
Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!! (1961)
Come Swing with Me! (1961)
Swing Along with Me (1961) (retitled Sinatra Swings)
I Remember Tommy (1961)
Point of No Return (1962)
Sinatra and Strings (1962)
Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass (1962)
All Alone (1962)
Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain (1962)
Sinatra–Basie: An Historic Musical First (1962)
The Concert Sinatra (1963)
Sinatra’s Sinatra (1963)
Sinatra Sings Days of Wine and Roses, Moon River, and Other Academy Award Winners (1964)
America, I Hear You Singing (1964)
It Might as Well Be Swing (1964)
12 Songs of Christmas (1964)
Softly, as I Leave You (1964)
September of My Years (1965)
My Kind of Broadway (1965)
A Man and His Music (1965)
Moonlight Sinatra (1966)
Strangers in the Night (1966)
That’s Life (1966)
Sinatra at the Sands (Live, 1966)
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (1967)
The World We Knew (1967)
Francis A. & Edward K. (1968)
The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas (1968)
My Way (1969)
A Man Alone (1969)
Sinatra & Company (1971)
Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back (1973)
Some Nice Things I’ve Missed (1974)
The Main Event – Live (Live, 1974)
Trilogy: Past Present Future (1980)
She Shot Me Down (1981)
L.A. Is My Lady (1984)
Duets II (1994)
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