Robert S. Ensler Presents

A Tribute to Frank Sinatra






Frank's Photos
Robert as Frank





During his lifetime, Frank Sinatra raised in excess of one billion dollars for various charities worldwide.

Frank Sinatra    Though Frank Sinatra's reputation as celebrity, icon, bad boy, and possibly the greatest singer of American popular songs of the century are paramount to the general public, he has always been valued highly in the jazz community, especially among musicians. Though not a jazz singer per se, he was a child of the big-band era, incubated with an ability to swing in a relaxed, ingratiating way in all kinds of material. Whenever he had the chance, Sinatra would credit Billie Holiday as a primary influence on his vocal style -- even recording a tribute song called "Lady Day" in 1970 -- and he learned circular breathing at the feet of trombonist Tommy Dorsey. Particularly from the mid-1950s into the mid-1960s, Sinatra would use expert jazzmen prominently in his recording orchestras, as well as arrangers who cut their teeth in the big-band era. He was at his freest and loosest when paired with a great big band like that of Count Basie, where he would bend to the rhythm, embroider the melody, and stray from the tune to the point where non-jazz-oriented aficionados of singing would become disoriented. Indeed, the theory has been advanced that during the `60s, flinging himself head-on against the rock & roll tide of the time, Sinatra was actually able to revive the big-band era in terms of mass popularity, record sales, concert receipts, and media exposure -- although this time, the orientation was in favor of the singer rather than the band. Had he chosen to explore it more, Sinatra could have also been the most important bossa nova singer of his time; even so, the two albums he did make with Antonio Carlos Jobim display an uncanny emotional affinity for the idiom. Other than Brazilian music, though, Sinatra stayed away from developments in jazz beyond swing (unless one counts a quirk like his notorious "do-be-do-be-do" scatting at the close of "Strangers In the Night").

The son of an ex-boxer and a domineering, ambitious mother, Sinatra quit school early in order to begin his musical career, winning the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio contest at 19 as a member of the Hoboken Four. Shortly after leaving Benny Goodman to form his own big band, Harry James hired Sinatra as a featured singer in 1939, and graciously relinquished him to Tommy Dorsey the following year. Backed by the vocal group the Pied Pipers, Sinatra's star rose to the point where in 1942, he broke out of the Dorsey ranks with four solo sides on his own. The wild, orgiastic reaction that Sinatra aroused during the war years announced the rise of the solo singer act in pop music, a development that would help send the big bands reeling. Though Sinatra was known mostly for his smooth, straightforward ballads during what are now known as the Columbia years (1943-52), occasionally his primary arranger Axel Stordahl and others like George Siravo would cook up a big-band chart for him. He also recorded "Sweet Lorraine" with the Metronome All-Stars (including Nat Cole and members of the Dorsey and Ellington bands) in 1946 and other intimately jazzy sides with the small combos of Page Cavanaugh, Phil Moore and Tony Mottola.

Upon moving to the Capitol label in 1953, many of Sinatra's recordings took on a tougher, more swinging, jazz-driven edge, with first Nelson Riddle and then, more vehemently, Billy May contributing sophisticated extensions of big-band-era techniques. The apex of the Riddle recordings is Songs for Swingin' Lovers (1955-56), where Sinatra rides confidently along with the swing of the band; May's charts for Come Fly With Me (1957) and Come Swing With Me (1958) push the swing envelope even farther and harder. The move to Sinatra's own label Reprise in 1961 found the singer working with other jazz-grounded arrangers like Johnny Mandel, Neal Hefti and Quincy Jones, as well as May and Riddle. In addition to Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, Hefti wrote the charts for Sinatra's initial studio encounter with Basie, Sinatra/Basie, while Jones did the follow-up, It Might As Well Be Swing, and conducted the live album with Basie, Sinatra at the Sands. A bit late for the bossa nova boom, Sinatra started working with Jobim in 1967 and again in 1969 -- the latter session did not come out in its entirety until 1995 -- and 1967 also saw a one-time-only summit meeting with Duke Ellington's orchestra.

Following a short "retirement" (1971-73), a darker-toned Sinatra usually worked live in tandem with a big band sometimes augmented by strings, playing the vintage and occasionally new arrangements whose creators the singer almost always credited by name. The Woody Herman band played the old charts on Sinatra's live album The Main Event, and for Sinatra's last ungimmicked studio album, L.A. Is My Lady, Quincy Jones assembled an all-star band full of famous jazzers like George Benson, Randy and Michael Brecker, and Lionel Hampton. Sinatra kept on singing into his late 70s, well after the point when his voice had lost its luster and elasticity. All that was left was his exquisite control over phrasing stemming largely from jazz influences -- and in many cases, that was enough. He retired in 1995 after experiencing memory lapses in performances; after years of rumors about his failing health, he died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, his reputation as the master of American popular song unassailably intact.

 Richard S. Ginell, All-Music Guide


Frank Sinatra                   

Singer, film actor. Born Francis Albert Sinatra, in Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 12, 1915, the only child of Dolly and Anthony Martin Sinatra.

Sinatra is considered by many to be the greatest entertainer of the twentieth century. His recordings came to epitomize American popular singing at its finest, with a style that maintained fidelity to a song’s lyric and mood while imbuing it with subtle elements of jazz beat and phrasing.

As a teenager, Sinatra worked unloading trucks for the Jersey Observer newspaper. He became a copy boy with an aspiration to be a journalist, but when told by the editor that copy boys “don’t know enough to be reporters,” Sinatra enrolled in secretarial school, studying English, typing, and shorthand. He was eventually promoted to cub sports reporter by the newspaper’s editor.

In his spare time, Sinatra appeared on Major Bowes Amateur Hour, a popular radio talent show. A self-taught singer, he was matched with three other aspirants to sing “Shine.” After the program, the quartet was sent out on tour by Bowes as the “Hoboken Four.” His first professional contract was for $25 per week as a singer, head waiter, master of ceremonies, and a comedian at The Rustic Cabin, a country roadhouse in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, in 1938. It was here in 1939 that Sinatra was discovered by Harry James, who signed him to sing for his new swing band.

After touring with James in 1939, Sinatra rose to prominence as lead singer with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra (1940-42), with whom he recorded more than ninety songs. In 1943 he began working solo and served as emcee on the popular radio program The Lucky Strike Hit Parade. Sinatra soon became a teen idol, with hysterical “bobby-soxer” fans rioting outside his performance at New York’s Paramount Theater on Columbus Day in 1944. He recorded numerous hits for Columbia Records between 1943 and 1952, but moved to Capitol Records in 1953. In 1960 he co-founded Reprise Records, where he recorded exclusively after 1963.

Sinatra married his childhood sweetheart Nancy Barbato, in February, 1939. They had three children: Nancy Sandra (1940), Franklin Wayne Emmanuel (Frank Jr.) (1944), and Christina (Tina) (1948).

Sinatra experienced a career crisis in the late 1940s, which coincided with the beginning of a tempestuous romance to actress Ava Gardner. 1949 was arguably the worst year of Sinatra’s career. He was fired from his radio show, and six months later his New York concerts flopped. He and his wife were divorcing, and his affair with Ava Gardner had become an open scandal. Columbia Records wanted him out. In 1950, he was released from his MGM film contract, and his own agent, MCA, dropped him. Sinatra seemed to have become a has-been at age 34. Sinatra and Gardner married in 1951, but separated a few years later and divorced in 1957.

Things got worse when Sinatra lost his voice due to a vocal cord hemmorhage, and he was rumored to have attempted suicide. Fortunately his voice problems were temporary, and he helped pick himself back up by resuming his recording career, and making an important re-entry into films. Sinatra landed the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953), which earned him an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor. Considered a natural actor, Sinatra turned in top-notch performances in many more films, most notably The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Detective (1968).

Sinatra’s work brought him into the Hollywood community in the late 1940s, where he became a member of the “Rat Pack,” a group of up-and-coming entertainers that included Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. The group performed together in Las Vegas in the 1950s and co-starred in several movies, including Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). The Rat Pack also staged concerts to raise money for John F. Kennedy’s bid for the presidency in 1960.

In 1966, Sinatra married the diminutive actress Mia Farrow, when he was 51 and she was 21. The couple divorced a little over a year later, in 1967. He married Barbara Marx, the former wife of Zeppo Marx, in 1976.

Sinatra announced his retirement in 1971 but returned for various concert tours and recordings during the next two decades, although his famous voice had begun to waver. His 1980 recording of “New York, New York” made him the only singer in history to have hit records in five consecutive decades. In 1988-89, Sinatra teamed up with his old Rat Pack cohorts, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin for a multi-city tour, and he last performed in concert in 1994 at age 78. Sinatra died of a heart attack at age 82 on May 14, 1998.

© 2000 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.





Robert S. Ensler      RSE@DeanMartin.TV