Frank Sinatra

Photo of Frank Sinatra
  • Birth Name

    Francis Albert Sinatra
  • Born

    December 12, 1915
    Hoboken, New Jersey
  • Died

    May 14, 1998
    Los Angeles, California
  • Orchestras

    Tommy Dorsey
    Harry James

Perhaps the most im­por­tant vo­cal­ist of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Frank Sinatra is ri­valed only by Bing Crosby in his con­tri­bu­tion to American pop­u­lar song. His smooth voice and un­canny sense of rhythm cou­pled by his tough-guy per­son­al­ity and deep sense of hu­mor won him the ado­ra­tion of jazz fans and the gen­eral pub­lic alike. Nicknamed Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Chairman of the Board, he is re­mem­bered to­day more for his clas­sic work of the 1950s and 1960s than for his big band days.

Born in 1915 and raised in New Jersey, Sinatra dropped out of high school to pur­sue a singing ca­reer. As part of the Hoboken Four, he won a con­test in 1935 on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour and went on tour with the show. He then found work as a singing waiter and Master of Ceremonies at the Rustic Cabin night­club in Englewood, New Jersey, where he re­ceived broad­cast time.

The story goes that vo­cal­ist Louise Tobin, then wife of band­leader Harry James, heard Sinatra sing on the ra­dio one night in 1939 and alerted her hus­band. James liked his voice and hired him for his new or­ches­tra. A dis­as­trous tour, how­ever, soon left the band in fi­nan­cial trou­ble and strug­gling to com­plete an en­gage­ment at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago in January 1940. Tommy Dorsey hap­pened to be in town at the same time and hav­ing trou­ble with his then male vo­cal­ist, Allan DeWitt. He of­fered Sinatra a job. With Sinatra’s wife ex­pect­ing and the band’s fu­ture un­cer­tain, James let him go.

Sinatra quickly be­come Dorsey’s star at­trac­tion. He re­mained with the band for more than two-and-a-half years, chart­ing 16 Top Ten hits, in­clud­ing the clas­sic num­ber one I’ll Never Smile Again.” He earned first place in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1941 col­lege poll for best male band vo­cal­ist and sec­ond place in 1942, barely edged out of first by Ray Eberle. He was back in first place for 1943.

With his pop­u­lar­ity soar­ing, Sinatra be­gan to con­sider a solo ca­reer. To test the wa­ters, he recorded four songs un­der his own name in early 1942 on the Bluebird la­bel, with Axel Stordahl con­duct­ing. Confident in his chances of suc­cess, Sinatra re­signed from Dorsey in September, leav­ing on the 10th af­ter a con­cert in Indianapolis.

Post-Band Years

The record­ing ban in­sti­tuted by the American Federation of Musicians was in full swing by the time Sinatra emerged as a soloist. Though he was un­able to record, he con­tin­ued to tour and to ap­pear on the ra­dio. His defin­ing mo­ment came dur­ing a stint open­ing for Benny Goodman at the Paramount Theater in New York in January 1943. Young fans went wild over him. Girls swooned upon hear­ing his voice, and he was of­ten mobbed by ador­ing fans.

RCA Victor and Columbia cap­i­tal­ized on this phe­nom­e­non by is­su­ing pre­vi­ously un­re­leased Dorsey and James vo­cal record­ings which fea­tured Sinatra. He soon signed with Columbia and skirted the ban by mak­ing sev­eral a cap­pela record­ings. He co-hosted the Your Hit Parade ra­dio se­ries and also be­gan to make ap­pear­ances in film, earn­ing an MGM con­tract.

Sinatra charted sev­eral hits over the next few years and scored big at the box of­fice, but by the late 1940s his ca­reer had stag­nated. As the 1950s rolled around, his pop­u­lar­ity was in de­cline. He con­tin­ued mak­ing films and ap­pear­ing on the ra­dio, though in lesser roles. He also hosted his own tele­vi­sion mu­si­cal-va­ri­ety pro­gram from 1950 to 1952. By the end of 1952, how­ever, he was off the air­waves com­pletely and with­out a film or record­ing con­tract, hav­ing left Columbia af­ter a dis­pute over ma­te­r­ial.

Aiming to make a come­back, he tight­ened his belt and signed a less-than-de­sired con­tract with Capitol Records. Soon he was chart­ing hits again. He also took a non-singing role in the mo­tion pic­ture From Here to Eternity and im­pressed the film es­tab­lish­ment so much that he was awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He was back on ra­dio also, in both a dra­matic role, as de­tec­tive Rocky Fortune, and as a singer.

Sinatra con­tin­ued record­ing, mak­ing films, and ap­pear­ing on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion through­out the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960, he formed his own record la­bel, Reprise, though he still was un­der con­tract with Capitol un­til 1962. He was pro­lific in the stu­dio, of­ten re­leas­ing three al­bums in one year. By the early 1960s, the mar­ket was over­sat­u­rated with Sinatra record­ings and sales slacked off. The chang­ing tastes of the America mu­sic buy­ing pub­lic also be­gan to take their toll. Though Sinatra was still a best-seller, he charted less fre­quently in the late 1960s, find­ing it hard to com­pete with mod­ern rock and pop artists. He briefly flirted with the youth mar­ket, to some suc­cess, but in 1971 gave in and an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

Sinatra did­n’t stay re­tired for long, re­turn­ing to the pub­lic eye in 1973 with a gold al­bum and a tele­vi­sion spe­cial. This time around, though, he pru­dently de­cided to fo­cus less on record­ing and more on live per­for­mance. Several years elapsed be­tween al­bum re­leases. He stayed out of the stu­dio from 1984 to 1993 when he re­leased Duets, on which he sang many of his old fa­vorites ac­com­pa­nied by pop­u­lar mod­ern vo­cal­ists. It be­came his best sell­ing al­bum of all time. In 1994, he fol­lowed it up with Duets II.

His health de­clin­ing in the mid-1990s, Sinatra re­tired for good in 1995. Frank Sinatra passed away in 1998, af­ter suf­fer­ing a heart at­tack, age 83.

Music

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  • All of Nothing at All
    Harry James (Frank Sinatra), Columbia (1939)
  • I'll Never Smile Again
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra, Pied Pipers), Victor (1940)
  • Blue Skies
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra), Victor (1941)
  • Oh, Look at Me Now
    Tommy Dorsey (Frank Sinatra), Victor (1941)
  • Sunshine Cake
    Frank Sinatra and Paula Kelly, Columbia (1950)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Radio

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  • The Ginny Simms Show (w/ Frank Sinatra)
    December 28, 1945 (CBS) 28:45

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. McCarthy, Albert. The Dance Band Era. Radnor, Pennsylvania: Chilton, 1971.
  4. “Tom Dorsey Gets Frank Sinatra.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1940: 5.
  5. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  6. “On the Records.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 72.
  7. “Students Select Singers.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  8. The Billboard 1943 Music Year Book Cincinnati: Billboard, 1944. 139.
  9. “The Columbia Sinatra.” Billboard 20 Nov. 1965: 125.