Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915, in an upstairs tenement at 415 Monroe Street in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was the only child of Italian immigrants Natalina “Dolly” Garaventa and Antonino Martino “Marty” Sinatra.
Francis 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 eardrum—damage that remained for life.
Due to his injuries at birth, his baptism at St. Francis Church in Hoboken was delayed until April 2, 1916. A childhood operation on his mastoid bone left major scarring on his neck and during adolescence he suffered from cystic acne that further scarred his face and neck.
Sinatra was raised in the Roman Catholic church.
His mother was energetic and driven and biographers believe that she was the dominant factor in the development of her son’s personality traits and self-confidence. She 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, for which she was nicknamed “Hatpin Dolly”.
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 parents’ tavern in Hoboken, 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, resulting in neighbors describing him as the “best-dressed kid in the neighborhood”.
Sinatra developed an interest in music, particularly big band jazz, at a young age. He listened to Gene Austin, Rudy Vallée, Russ Colombo, Bob Eberly and idolized Bing Crosby.
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 soon departed after 11 months. Dolly found Sinatra work as a delivery boy at the Jersey Observer newspaper, where his godfather Frank Garrick worked, 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.
Early Years (1935-1942)
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 3 Flashes, to let him join.
Fred Tamburro, the group’s baritone, stated that “Frank hung around us like we were gods or something”, admitting that they only took him on board because he owned a car 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. Due to the success of the group, Bowes kept asking for them to return, disguised under different names.
In 1938, Sinatra found employment as a singing waiter at a roadhouse called “The Rustic Cabin” in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The roadhouse was connected to the WNEW radio station in New York City and he began performing with a group live during the Dance Parade show.
Despite the low salary Sinatra 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 arranged for him to audition and record “Our Love”, his first solo studio recording.
In June, 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. It was with the James band that Sinatra released his first commercial record “From the Bottom of My Heart” in July.
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 as the lead singer of the Tommy Dorsey band.
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 kid with big ears. I used to 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, even adopting his hobby of toy trains.
He asked Dorsey to be godfather to his 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”.
In his first year with Dorsey, Sinatra recorded 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 records with Tommy Dorsey issued by RCA Victor 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“.
Sinatra first heard the recordings at the Hollywood Palladium and Hollywood Plaza and was astounded at how good he sounded.
After the 1942 recordings, Sinatra believed he needed to go solo with an insatiable desire to compete with Bing Crosby, but he was hampered by his contract which gave Dorsey 43% of Sinatra’s lifetime earnings in the entertainment industry.
A legal battle ensued which eventually settled in August 1942. On September 3, 1942, Dorsey bade farewell to Sinatra. 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.
Sinatra persuaded Stordahl to leave Dorsey with him and become his personal arranger offering him $650 a month, five times the salary of Dorsey.
Role in WWII (1942-1945)
By May 1941 Sinatra topped the male singer polls in Billboard and DownBeat magazines. His appeal to bobby soxers, as teenage girls of that time were called, revealed a whole new audience for popular music. The phenomenon became officially known as “Sinatramania” after his “legendary opening” at the Paramount Theatre in New York on December 30, 1942.
Sinatra performed for four weeks at the theatre with his act following the Benny Goodman orchestra, after which his contract was renewed for another four weeks by Bob Weitman due to his popularity.
He became known as “Swoonatra” or “The Voice” and his fans “Sinatratics”. They organized meetings and sent masses of letters of adoration, and within a few weeks of the show, some 1000 Sinatra fan clubs had been reported across the US.
Sinatra’s publicist, George Evans, encouraged interviews and photographs with fans and was the man responsible for depicting Sinatra as a vulnerable, shy, Italian–American with a rough childhood who made good.
When Sinatra returned to the Paramount in October 1944 only 250 persons left the first show, and 35,000 fans left outside caused a near riot, known as the Columbus Day Riot, outside the venue because they were not allowed in.
Such was the bobby-soxer devotion to Sinatra that they were known to write Sinatra’s song titles on their clothing, bribe hotel maids for an opportunity to touch his bed, and accost his person in the form of stealing clothing he was wearing, most commonly his bow-tie.
Sinatra signed with Columbia Records as a solo artist on June 1, 1943 during the 1942–44 musicians’ strike. Columbia Records re-released Harry James and Sinatra’s August 1939 version of “All or Nothing at All”, which reached number 2 on June 2, and was on the best-selling list for 18 weeks.
He initially had great success, and performed on the radio on Your Hit Parade from February 1943 until December 1944 as wel as on stage. Columbia wanted new recordings of their growing star as quickly as possible, so Alec Wilder was hired as an arranger and conductor for several sessions with a vocal group called the Bobby Tucker Singers.
These first sessions were on June 7, June 22, August 5, and November 10, 1943. Of the nine songs recorded during these sessions, seven charted on the best-selling list. That year he also made his first solo nightclub appearance at New York’s Riobamba and a successful concert in the Wedgewood Room of the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria New York that year secured his popularity in New York high society.
Sinatra released “You’ll Never Know”, “Close to You“, “Sunday, Monday, or Always” and “People Will Say We’re in Love” as singles. By the end of 1943 he was more popular in a DownBeat poll than Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Bob Eberly, and Dick Haymes.
Sinatra did not serve in the military during World War II. On December 11, 1943, he was officially classified 4-F (“Registrant not acceptable for military service”) by his draft board because of a perforated eardrum.
However, U.S. Army files reported that Sinatra was “not acceptable material from a psychiatric viewpoint”, but his emotional instability was hidden to avoid “undue unpleasantness for both the selectee and the induction service”.
Toward the end of the war, Sinatra entertained the troops during several successful overseas USO tours with comedian Phil Silvers. Sinatra worked frequently with the popular Andrews Sisters in radio in the 1940s and many USO shows were broadcast to troops via the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS).
In 1944 Sinatra released “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” as a single and recorded his own version of Crosby’s “White Christmas“. The following year he released “I Dream of You (More Than You Dream I Do)“, “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)“, “Dream“, and “Nancy (with the Laughing Face)” as singles.
Career slump (1946-1952)
In 1946 Sinatra released “Oh! What it Seemed to Be“, “Day by Day“, “They Say It’s Wonderful“, “Five Minutes More“, and “The Coffee Song” as singles, and launched his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
William Ruhlmann of AllMusic wrote that Sinatra “took the material very seriously, singing the love lyrics with utter seriousness”, and that his “singing and the classically influenced settings gave the songs unusual depth of meaning”.
He was soon selling ten million records a year. Such was Sinatra’s command at Columbia that his love of conducting was indulged with the release of the set Frank Sinatra Conducts the Music of Alec Wilder, an offering unlikely to appeal to Sinatra’s core fanbase at the time, which consisted of teenage girls.
The following year he released his second album, Songs by Sinatra, featuring songs of a similar mood and tempo such as Irving Berlin‘s “How Deep is the Ocean?” and Harold Arlen’s and Jerome Kern‘s “All The Things You Are“
“Mam’selle“, composed by Edmund Goulding with lyrics by Mack Gordon for the film The Razor’s Edge (1946), was released as a single.
In December he recorded “Sweet Lorraine” with the Metronome All-Stars, featuring talented jazz musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney and Charlie Shavers, with Nat King Cole on piano.
Sinatra’s third album, Christmas Songs by Sinatra, was originally released in 1948 as a 78 rpm album set and a 10″ LP record was released two years later.
By the end of 1948, Sinatra had slipped to fourth on DownBeat‘s annual poll of most popular singers (behind Billy Eckstine, Frankie Laine, and Bing Crosby). In the following year he was pushed out of the top spots in polls for the first time since 1943. Frankly Sentimental (1949) was panned by DownBeat, who commented that “for all his talent, it seldom comes to life”.
Though “The Hucklebuck” reached the top ten, it was his last single release under the Columbia label. Sinatra’s last two albums with Columbia, Dedicated to You and Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra, were released in 1950.
Sinatra would later feature a number of the Sing and Dance with Frank Sinatra album’s songs, including “Lover“, “It’s Only a Paper Moon“, “It All Depends on You“, on his 1961 Capitol release, Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!.
Cementing the low of his career was the death of publicist George Evans from a heart attack in January 1950 at 48. According to Jimmy Van Heusen, Sinatra’s close friend and songwriter, Evans’s death to him was “an enormous shock which defies words”, as he had been crucial to his career and popularity with the bobbysoxers.
Sinatra’s reputation continued to decline as reports broke out in February of his affair with Ava Gardner and the destruction of his marriage to Nancy, though he insisted that his marriage had long been over even before he had met Gardner.
In April, Sinatra was engaged to perform at the Copa club in New York, but had to cancel five days of the booking due to suffering a submucosal hemorrhage of the throat.
In financial difficulty following his divorce and career decline, Sinatra was forced to borrow $200,000 from Columbia to pay his back taxes after MCA refused to front the money. Rejected by Hollywood he turned to Las Vegas and made his debut at the Desert Inn in September 1951, and also began singing at the Riverside Hotel in Reno, Nevada.
Sinatra became one of Las Vegas’s pioneer residency entertainers and a prominent figure on the Vegas scene throughout the 1950s and 1960s onwards.
Sinatra would fly to Las Vegas from Los Angeles in Van Heusen’s single-engine plane. On October 4, 1953, Sinatra made his first performance at the Sands Hotel and Casino, after an invitation by the manager Jack Entratter, who had previously worked at the Copa in New York. Sinatra typically performed there three times a year and later acquired a share in the hotel.
Sinatra’s decline in popularity was evident at his concert appearances. At a brief run at the Paramount in New York he drew small audiences. At the Desert Inn in Las Vegas he performed to half-filled houses of wildcatters and ranchers. At a concert at Chez Paree in Chicago, only 150 people in a 1,200-seat capacity venue turned up to see him.
By April 1952 he was performing at the Kauai County Fair in Hawaii. Sinatra’s relationship with Columbia Records was also disintegrating, with A&R executive Mitch Miller claiming he “couldn’t give away” the singer’s records.
Though several notable recordings were made during this time period, such as “If I Could Write a Book” in January 1952, Columbia and MCA dropped him later that year.
His last studio recording for Columbia, “Why Try To Change Me Now“, was recorded in New York on September 17, 1952, with orchestra arranged and conducted by Percy Faith.
Career revival (1953-1961)
The release of the film From Here to Eternity in August 1953 marked the beginning of a remarkable career revival. Tom Santopietro notes that Sinatra began to bury himself in his work, with an “unparalleled frenetic schedule of recordings, movies and concerts”.
On March 13, 1953, Sinatra met with Capitol Records vice president Alan Livingston and signed a seven-year recording contract. His first session for Capitol took place at KHJ studios at Studio C, 5515 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, with Axel Stordahl conducting. The session produced four recordings, including “I’m Walking Behind You“.
After spending two weeks on location in Hawaii filming From Here to Eternity, Sinatra returned to KHJ on April 30 for his first recording session with Nelson Riddle, an established arranger and conductor at Capitol who was Nat King Cole’s musical director.
In subsequent sessions in May and November 1953, Sinatra and Riddle developed and refined their musical collaboration, with Sinatra providing specific guidance on the arrangements.
Sinatra’s first album for Capitol, Songs for Young Lovers, was released on January 4, 1954, and included “A Foggy Day“, “I Get a Kick Out of You“, “My Funny Valentine“, “Violets for Your Furs” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me“.
That same month, Sinatra released the single “Young at Heart“, which reached No. 2 and was awarded Song of the Year. In March, he recorded and released the single “Three Coins in the Fountain” that reached No. 4.
Sinatra’s second album with Riddle, Swing Easy! was released on August 2, 1954, and included “Just One of Those Things“, “Taking a Chance on Love“, “Get Happy” and “All of Me”.
Swing Easy! was named Album of the Year by Billboard and he was also named “Favorite Male Vocalist” by Billboard, DownBeat, and Metronome. Sinatra came to consider Riddle “the greatest arranger in the world”, and Riddle offered equal praise of the singer, observing, “It’s not only that his intuitions as to tempi, phrasing, and even configuration are amazingly right, but his taste is so impeccable … there is still no one who can approach him.”
In 1955 Sinatra released In the Wee Small Hours, featuring songs such as “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning“, “Mood Indigo“, “Glad to Be Unhappy” and “When Your Lover Has Gone“. According to Granata it was the first concept album of his to make a “single persuasive statement”, with an extended program and “melancholy mood”.
Sinatra embarked on his first tour of Australia the same year. Another collaboration with Riddle resulted in the development of Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!, sometimes seen as one of his best albums, which was released in March 1956.
His February 1956 recording sessions inaugurated the studios at the Capitol Records Building, complete with a 56-piece symphonic orchestra. According to Granata his recordings of “Night and Day“, “Oh! Look At Me Now” and “From This Moment On” revealed “powerful sexual overtones, stunningly achieved through the mounting tension and release of Sinatra’s best-teasing vocal lines”, while his recording of “River, Stay ‘Way from My Door” in April demonstrated his “brilliance as a syncopational improviser”.
His penchant for conducting was displayed again in 1956’s Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color, an instrumental album that has been interpreted to be a catharsis to his failed relationship with Gardner.
In 1957, Sinatra released Close to You, A Swingin’ Affair! and Where Are You? with Gordon Jenkins.
Granata considers “Close to You” to have been thematically his closest concept album to perfection and Nelson Riddle’s finest work, which was “extremely progressive” by the standards of the day. It is structured like a three-act play, each commencing with the songs “With Every Breath I Take“, “Blame It On My Youth” and “It Could Happen to You“.
On June 9, 1957, he performed in a 62-minute concert conducted by Riddle at the Seattle Civic Auditorium, his first appearance in Seattle since 1945.
In 1958 Sinatra released the concept album Come Fly with Me with Billy May, designed as a musical world tour. It reached the top spot on the Billboard album chart in its second week, remaining at the top for five weeks and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year at the inaugural Grammy Awards.
The title song, “Come Fly With Me“, written especially for him, would become one of his best known standards. On May 29,1958, he recorded seven songs in a single session, more than double the usual yield of a recording session, and an eighth was planned, “Lush Life“, but Sinatra found it too technically demanding.
In September, Sinatra released Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, a stark collection of introspective saloon songs and blues-tinged ballads which proved a huge commercial success, spending 120 weeks on Billboards album chart and peaking at No. 1. Cuts from this LP, such as “Angel Eyes” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)“, would remain staples of the “saloon song” segments of Sinatra’s concerts.
In 1959, Sinatra released Come Dance with Me!, a highly successful, critically acclaimed album which stayed on Billboard’s Pop album chart for 140 weeks, peaking at No. 2. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, as well as Best Vocal Performance, Male and Best Arrangement for Billy May.
He also released No One Cares in the same year, a collection of “brooding, lonely” torch songs.
On September 19, 1959, he was asked by 20th Century Fox to be the master of ceremonies at a luncheon attended by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Nice ‘n’ Easy, a collection of ballads, topped the Billboard chart in October 1960 and remained in the charts for 86 weeks, winning critical plaudits. Granata noted the “lifelike ambient sound” quality of Nice and Easy and highlighted the “close, warm and sharp” feel of Sinatra’s voice, particularly on the songs “September in the Rain“, “I Concentrate on You“, and “My Blue Heaven“.
Reprise Years (1961-1969)
Sinatra grew discontented at Capitol and fell into a feud with Alan Livingston, which lasted over six months. His first attempt at owning his own label was with his pursuit of buying declining jazz label, Verve Records, which ended once an initial agreement with Verve founder, Norman Granz, “failed to materialize.”
He decided to form his own label, Reprise Records and, in an effort to assert his new direction, temporarily parted with Riddle, May and Jenkins, working with other arrangers such as Neil Hefti, Don Costa, and Quincy Jones.
Sinatra built the appeal of Reprise Records as one in which artists were promised creative control over their music, as well as a guarantee that they would eventually gain “complete ownership of their work, including publishing rights.” Under Sinatra the company developed into a music industry “powerhouse”, and he later sold it for an estimated $80 million.
His first album on the label, Ring-a-Ding-Ding! was a major success, peaking at No.4 on Billboard. The album was released in February 1961, the same month that Reprise Records released Ben Webster’s The Warm Moods, Sammy Davis Jr.‘s The Wham of Sam, Mavis River’s Mavis and Joe E. Lewis‘s It is Now Post Time.
During the initial years of Reprise Records, Sinatra was still under contract to record for Capitol, completing his contractual commitment with the release of Point of No Return, recorded over a two day period on September 11 and 12, 1961.
In 1962, Sinatra released Sinatra and Strings, a set of standard ballads arranged by Don Costa, which became one of the most critically acclaimed works of Sinatra’s entire Reprise period.
Sinatra and Count Basie collaborated for the album Sinatra-Basie the same year, a popular and successful release which prompted them to rejoin two years later for the follow-up It Might as Well Be Swing, arranged by Quincy Jones.
The two became frequent performers together and appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. Also in 1962, Sinatra was able to step on the podium as conductor again, releasing his third instrumental album Frank Sinatra Conducts Music from Pictures and Plays.
In 1963, Sinatra reunited with Nelson Riddle for The Concert Sinatra, an ambitious album featuring a 73-piece symphony orchestra arranged and conducted by Riddle. The concert was recorded on a motion picture scoring soundstage with the use of multiple synchronized recording machines that employed an optical signal onto 35 mm film designed for movie soundtracks.
In 1964, the song “My Kind of Town” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Sinatra released Softly, as I Leave You, and collaborated with Bing Crosby and Fred Waring on America, I Hear You Singing, a collection of patriotic songs recorded as a tribute to the assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
He became increasingly involved in charitable pursuits in this period. In 1961 and 1962 he went to Mexico, with the sole purpose of putting on performances for Mexican charities and in July 1964 he was present for the dedication of the Frank Sinatra International Youth Center for Arab and Jewish children in Nazareth.
Sinatra’s phenomenal success in 1965, coinciding with his 50th birthday, prompted Billboard to proclaim that he may have reached the “peak of his eminence”.
In June 1965, Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin played live in St. Louis to benefit Dismas House, a prisoner rehabilitation and training center with nationwide programs that in particular helped serve African Americans. The Rat Pack concert, called The Frank Sinatra Spectacular, was broadcast live via satellite to numerous movie theaters across America.
The album September of My Years was released in September 1965, and went on to win the Grammy Award for best album of the year. Granata considers the album to have been one of the finest of his Reprise years, “a reflective throwback to the concept records of the 1950s, and more than any of those collections, distills everything that Frank Sinatra had ever learned or experienced as a vocalist”.
One of the album’s singles, “It Was a Very Good Year”, won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male. A career anthology, A Man and His Music, followed in November, winning Album of the Year at the Grammys the following year.
In 1966 Sinatra released That’s Life, with both the single of “That’s Life” and album becoming Top Ten hits in the US on Billboard‘s pop charts.Strangers in the Night went on to top the Billboard and UK pop singles charts, winning the award for Record of the Year at the Grammys.
Sinatra’s first live album, Sinatra at the Sands, was recorded during January and February 1966 at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Sinatra was backed by the Count Basie Orchestra, with Quincy Jones conducting.
Sinatra started 1967 with a series of recording sessions with Antônio Carlos Jobim. He recorded one of his collaborations with Jobim, the Grammy-nominated album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, which was one of the best-selling albums of the year. According to Santopietro the album “consists of an extraordinarily effective blend of bossa nova and slightly swinging jazz vocals, and succeeds in creating an unbroken mood of romance and regret”.
Sinatra also released the album The World We Knew, which features a chart-topping duet of “Somethin’ Stupid” with his daughter Nancy. In December, Sinatra collaborated with Duke Ellington on the album Francis A. & Edward K.
With Sinatra in mind, singer-songwriter Paul Anka wrote the song “My Way”, using the melody of the French “Comme d’habitude” (“As Usual”), composed by Claude François and Jacques Revaux. Sinatra recorded it just after Christmas 1968.
“My Way“, Sinatra’s best-known song on the Reprise label, was not an instant success, charting at #27 in the US and #5 in the UK, but it remained in the UK charts for 122 weeks, including 75 non-consecutive weeks in the Top 40, between April 1969 and September 1971, which was still a record in 2015.
Sinatra told songwriter Ervin Drake in the 1970s that he “detested” singing the song because he believed audiences would think it was a “self-aggrandizing tribute”, professing that he “hated boastfulness in others”.
In an effort to maintain his commercial viability in the late 1960s, Sinatra would record works by Paul Simon (“Mrs. Robinson“), the Beatles (“Yesterday“) and Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides, Now“) in 1969.
Retiremnet and Return (1970-1981)
In 1970, Sinatra released Watertown, a critically acclaimed concept album, 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 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 gave a “rousing” performance of “That’s Life” and finished the concert with a Matt Dennis and Earl Brent song, “Angel Eyes” which he had recorded on the Only The Lonely album in 1958. The spotlight went dark and he left the stage.
He told LIFE journalist Thomas Thompson that “I’ve got things to do, like the first thing is not to do anything at all for eight months … maybe a year”, while Barbara Sinatra later 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. The album, entitled Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back, arranged by Gordon Jenkins and Don Costa, was a success reaching number 13 on Billboard and number 12 in the UK. The television special, Magnavox Presents Frank Sinatra, reunited Sinatra with Gene Kelly.
He initially developed problems with his vocal cords 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 not 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”.
Union actions cancelled concerts and grounded Sinatra’s plane, essentially trapping him in Australia. In the end, Sinatra’s lawyer, Mickey Rudin, arranged for Sinatra to issue a written conciliatory note and a final concert that was televised to the nation.
In October 1974 he 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, and at the London Palladium with Basie and Sarah Vaughan, and in Tehran at Aryamehr Stadium, 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 the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 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. On March 14 he recorded with Nelson Riddle for the last time, recording the songs “Linda“, “Sweet Loraine” and “Barbara“.
The two men had a major falling out and later patched up their differences in January 1985 at a dinner organized for Ronald Reagan, when Sinatra asked Riddle to make another album with him. Riddle was ill at the time, and died that October, before they had a chance to record.
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 former 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. It was the first studio album of Sinatra’s to feature his touring pianist at the time, Vinnie Falcone, and was based on an idea by Sonny Burke.
The album garnered six Grammy nominations and peaked at number 17 on Billboard’s album chart, spawning yet another song that would become a signature tune, “Theme from New York, New York“.
The same 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”.
In 1981, 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.
Later Career (1982-1998)
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.
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. In 1986, Sinatra collapsed on stage while performing in Atlantic City and was hospitalized for diverticulitis, which left him looking frail.
Two years later, Sinatra reunited with Martin and Davis 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.
On June 6, 1988, Sinatra made his last recordings with Reprise for an album which was not released. He recorded “My Foolish Heart“, “Cry Me A River“, and other songs. He never completed the project, but take number 18 of “My Foolish Heart” may be heard in The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings (1995).
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. He 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 fainted onstage in Richmond, Virginia, in March 1994. His final public concerts were held in Fukuoka Dome in Japan on December 19–20, 1994.
Sinatra sang for the 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 performed on 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.
Film debut and later career slump (1941-1952)
Sinatra attempted to pursue an acting career in Hollywood in the early 1940s. While films appealed to him he was rarely enthusiastic about his own acting, once remarking that “pictures stink”. Sinatra made his film debut performing in an uncredited sequence in Las Vegas Nights (1941), singing “I’ll Never Smile Again” with Tommy Dorsey’s Pied Pipers.
He had a cameo role along with Duke Ellington and Count Basie in Charles Barton’s Reveille with Beverly (1943), making a brief appearance singing “Night and Day“. Next, he was given leading roles in Higher and Higher and Step Lively (both 1944).
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast Sinatra opposite Gene Kelly and Kathryn Grayson in the Technicolor musical Anchors Aweigh (1945), in which he played a sailor on leave in Hollywood for four days. It was a major success and it garnered several Academy Award wins and nominations, and the song “I Fall in Love Too Easily“, sung by Sinatra in the film, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
He briefly appeared at the end of Richard Whorf’s commercially successful Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) in which he sang “Ol’ Man River“.
Sinatra co-starred again with Gene Kelly in the musical Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), a film set in 1908 in which Sinatra and Kelly play baseball players who are part-time vaudevillians. He teamed up with Kelly for a third time in On the Town (also 1949), playing a sailor on leave in New York City.
Both Double Dynamite (1951), an RKO Irving Cummings comedy produced by Howard Hughes and Joseph Pevney‘s Meet Danny Wilson (1952) failed to make an impression.
Comeback and Prime Years (1953-1959)
Fred Zinnemann‘s From Here to Eternity (1953) deals with the tribulations of three soldiers, played by Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Sinatra, stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sinatra had long been desperate to find a film role which would bring him back into the spotlight and Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn had been inundated by appeals from people across Hollywood to give Sinatra a chance to star as “Maggio” in the film.
During production Montgomery Clift became a close friend and Sinatra later professed that he “learned more about acting from him than anybody I ever knew before”. After several years of critical and commercial decline, his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor win helped him regain his position as the top recording artist in the world. His performance also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture.
Sinatra starred opposite Doris Day in the musical film Young at Heart (1954) and earned critical praise for his performance as a psychopathic killer posing as an FBI agent opposite Sterling Hayden in the film noir Suddenly (also 1954).
Sinatra was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role as a heroin addict in The Man With The Golden Arm (1955). After roles in Guys and Dolls and The Tender Trap (both 1955), Sinatra was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role as a medical student in Stanley Kramer’s directorial début, Not as a Stranger (also 1955).
During production, Sinatra got drunk with Robert Mitchum and Broderick Crawford and trashed Kramer’s dressing room. Kramer vowed to never hire Sinatra again at the time and later regretted casting him as a Spanish guerrilla leader in The Pride and the Passion (1957).
Sinatra featured alongside Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in High Society (1956) for MGM, earning a reported $250,000 for the picture. The public rushed to the cinemas to see Sinatra and Crosby together on-screen, and it ended up earning over $13 million at the box office, becoming one of the highest-grossing pictures of its year.
He starred opposite Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak in George Sidney‘s Pal Joey (1957), for which he won for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. He next portrayed comedian Joe E. Lewis in The Joker Is Wild (also 1957), with the song “All the Way” winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
By 1958, Sinatra was one of the ten biggest box office draws in the United States, appearing with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine in Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running and Kings Go Forth (both 1958) with Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.
“High Hopes”, sung by Sinatra in the Frank Capra comedy, A Hole in the Head (1959), won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became a chart hit, lasting on the Hot 100 for 17 weeks.
Later Career (1960-1980)
Due to an obligation he owed to 20th Century Fox for walking off the set of Henry King’s Carousel (1956), Sinatra starred opposite Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan in Can-Can (1960).
Around the same time he starred in the Las Vegas-set Ocean’s 11 (also 1960). Sinatra personally financed the film and paid Martin and Davis fees of $150,000 and $125,000 respectively, sums considered exorbitant for the period.
He had a leading role opposite Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which he considered to be the role he was most excited about and the high point of his film career. He appeared with the Rat Pack in the western Sergeants 3 (also 1962), following it with 4 for Texas (1963).
For his performance in Come Blow Your Horn (also 1963) adapted from the Neil Simon play, he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
Sinatra directed None but the Brave (1965) and Von Ryan’s Express (1965) was a major success.
However, in the mid 1960s, Brad Dexter wanted to “breathe new life” into Sinatra’s film career by helping him display the same professional pride in his films as he did his recordings.
In the late 1960s, Sinatra became known for playing detectives, including Tony Rome in Tony Rome (1967) and its sequel Lady In Cement (1968). He also played a similar role in The Detective (1968).
Sinatra starred opposite George Kennedy in the western Dirty Dingus Magee (1970), which was panned by the critics. The following year, Sinatra received a Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award and had intended to play Detective Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry (1971), but had to turn the role down due to developing Dupuytren’s contracture in his hand.
Sinatra’s last major film role was opposite Faye Dunaway in Brian G. Hutton‘s The First Deadly Sin (1980).
Career in televison and radio
After beginning on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio show with the Hoboken Four in 1935, and later WNEW and WAAT in Jersey City, Sinatra became the star of radio shows of his own on NBC and CBS from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s.
In 1942, Sinatra hired arranger Axel Stordahl away from Tommy Dorsey before he began his first radio program that year, keeping Stordahl with him for all of his radio work. By the end of 1942, he was named the “Most Popular Male Vocalist on Radio” in a DownBeat poll.
Early on he frequently worked with The Andrews Sisters on radio and they would appear as guests on each other’s shows, as well as on many USO shows broadcast to troops via the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS).
He appeared as a special guest in the sisters’ ABC Eight-to-the-Bar Ranch series, while the trio in turn guested on his Songs by Sinatra series on CBS.
Sinatra had two stints as a regular member of cast of Your Hit Parade, his first was from 1943 to 1945 and second was from 1946 to May 28, 1949, during which he was paired with the then-new girl singer, Doris Day.
Starting in September 1949, the BBD&O advertising agency produced a radio series starring Sinatra for Lucky Strike called Light Up Time – some 176 15-minute shows which featured Frank and Dorothy Kirsten singing – which lasted through to May 1950.
In October 1951, the second season of The Frank Sinatra Show began on CBS Television. Ultimately, Sinatra did not find the success on television for which he had hoped.
In 1953, Sinatra starred in the NBC radio program Rocky Fortune, portraying Rocco Fortunato (a.k.a. Rocky Fortune), a “footloose and fancy free” temporary worker for the Gridley Employment Agency who stumbles into crime-solving. The series aired on NBC radio Tuesday nights from October 1953 to March 1954.
In 1957, Sinatra formed a three-year $3 million contract with ABC to launch The Frank Sinatra Show, featuring himself and guests in 36 half hour shows. ABC agreed to allow Sinatra’s Hobart Productions to keep 60% of the residuals and bought stock in Sinatra’s film production unit, Kent Productions, guaranteeing him $7 million.
Though an initial critical success upon its debut on October 18, 1957, it soon attracted negative reviews from Variety and The New Republic, and The Chicago Sun-Times thought that Sinatra and frequent guest Dean Martin “performed like a pair of adult delinquents”, “sharing the same cigarette and leering at girls”. In return, Sinatra later made numerous appearances on The Dean Martin Show and Martin’s TV specials.
Sinatra’s fourth and final Timex TV special, Welcome Home Elvis, was broadcast in March 1960, earning massive viewing figures. During the show, he performed a duet with Presley, who sang Sinatra’s 1957 hit “Witchcraft” with the host performing the 1956 Presley classic “Love Me Tender”.
A CBS News special about the singer’s 50th birthday, Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, was broadcast on November 16, 1965, and garnered both an Emmy award and a Peabody Award.
According with his musical collaboration with Jobim and Ella Fitzgerald in 1967, Sinatra appeared in the TV special, A Man and His Music + Ella + Jobim, which was broadcast on CBS on November 13.
When Sinatra came out of retirement in 1973, he released both an album and appeared in a TV special named Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. The TV special was highlighted by a dramatic reading of “Send in the Clowns” and a song-and-dance sequence with former co-star Gene Kelly.
Sinatra starred as a detective in Contract on Cherry Street (1977), cited as his “one starring role in a dramatic television film”. Ten years later, he made a guest appearance opposite Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., playing a retired policeman who teams up with Selleck to find his granddaughter’s murderer. Shot in January 1987, the episode aired on CBS on February 25.
Sinatra had three children, Nancy (born 1940), Frank Jr. (born 1944) and Tina (born 1948) with his first wife, Nancy Sinatra (née Barbato), to whom he was married from 1939 to 1951.
Sinatra had met Barbato in Long Branch, New Jersey in the late 1930s, where he spent most of the summer working as a lifeguard. He agreed to marry her after an incident at “The Rustic Cabin” which led to his arrest.
Sinatra had numerous extramarital affairs and gossip magazines published details of affairs with women including Marilyn Maxwell, Lana Turner, and Joi Lansing.
Sinatra was married to Hollywood actress Ava Gardner from 1951 to 1957. It was a turbulent marriage with many well-publicized fights and altercations. The couple formally announced their separation on October 29, 1953, through MGM. Gardner filed for divorce in June 1954, at a time when she was dating matador Luis Miguel Dominguín, but the divorce was not settled until 1957.
Sinatra continued to feel very strongly for her and they remained friends for life. He was still dealing with her finances in 1976.
Sinatra reportedly broke off engagements to Lauren Bacall in 1958 and Juliet Prowse in 1962. He married Mia Farrow on July 19, 1966, a short marriage that ended with divorce in Mexico in August 1968.
They remained close friends for life and in a 2013 interview Farrow said that Sinatra might be the father of her son Ronan Farrow (born 1987). In a 2015 CBS Sunday Morning interview, Nancy Sinatra dismissed the claim as “nonsense”.
Sinatra was married to Barbara Marx from 1976 until his death. The couple married on July 11, 1976, at Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage, California.
Sinatra was close friends with Jilly Rizzo, songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen, golfer Ken Venturi, comedian Pat Henry and baseball manager Leo Durocher.
In his spare time he enjoyed listening to classical music and attended concerts when he could. He swam daily in the Pacific Ocean, finding it to be therapeutic and giving him much-needed solitude. He often played golf with Venturi at the course in Palm Springs, where he lived and liked painting, reading, and building model railways.
Later Life and Death
Sinatra died with his wife at his side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 14, 1998, after a heart attack. He was in ill health during the last few years of his life and was frequently hospitalized for heart and breathing problems, high blood pressure, pneumonia and bladder cancer. He was further diagnosed as having dementia. He had made no public appearances following a heart attack in February 1997.
The night after Sinatra’s death, the lights on the Empire State Building in New York City were turned blue, the lights at the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor and the casinos stopped spinning for one minute.
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.
Sinatra was buried in a blue business suit with mementos from family member next to his parents in section B-8 of Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.