Sinatra, Frank


Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915 to an Italian immigrant couple living in Hoboken, N.J. An only child, Sinatra's parents hoped that their son would become an engineer, but Frank had other plans -- coasting through school in order to concentrate on athletics and getting into scraps with other boys and the local police. Working after school for a local newspaper, Frank quickly rose through the ranks from copy boy to rookie sports reporter, often covering high school games in which he himself participated. (Sinatra was an accomplished all-around athlete, with a special interest in boxing.) Not long after graduation Frank began singing in his spare time. Though he never took formal lessons, he idolized Bing Crosby and frequently practiced his songs, eventually entering local talent contests. After winning a prominent radio contest, the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, in 1938, Sinatra was hired to be a headwaiter and MC at a small New Jersey club called The Rustic Cabin; in his spare time he began singing on local radio stations, performing for gas money. Meanwhile, the struggling young vocalist married his long-time girlfriend, Nancy Barbato, in February of 1939.

One fateful day in June of 1939, former Benny Goodman sideman Harry James came to the Rustic Cabin and heard Sinatra singing; he immediately hired Sinatra for his new band, the Harry James Orchestra. After touring with the group for less than six months and performing with them on the minor single "All or Nothing at All," famed big band trombonist Tommy Dorsey hired Sinatra away for his own Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. With Sinatra's smooth vocals charting the group several Top 10 singles, Dorsey's band became one of the biggest acts of the early 1940s. While serving in the band, Sinatra began appearing in movies, starting with 1940'sLas Vegas Nights. The following year he was drafted by the Army, but due to an old ear injury he was given an exemption from service.

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.

His concerts became magnets for screaming teenage girls, the forerunners of modern-day rock groupies, attracting over 25,000 fans for a 1944 New York appearance. As a youth icon Sinatra used his popularity to endorse Franklin D. Roosevelt's final run for president, starting a long tradition of political involvement. By 1946 Sinatra was perhaps America's top performer, selling as many 10 million singles each year and playing packed houses from coast to coast. Known for his clean-cut, bow-tie image and popularly referred to as "The Voice," in 1947 Sinatra recorded a whopping 72 new songs, a personal high mark; he was making almost a million dollars a year at a time when a new car cost around one thousand dollars.

Unfortunately that same year he became the subject of serious allegations about his personal allegiances: in February it was reported that he spent time in Cuba with mob boss Lucky Luciano and in April he was accused by a Hollywood gossip columnist of having ties to the Communist Party (he later punched the man in the face!). Sinatra denied these charges, claiming he was the subject of anti-Italian prejudice, but rumors continued to dog him over the next few years. In 1949 the Committee on Un-American Activities claimed that Sinatra had ties to both the Mafia and the Communists; that same year he was further disgraced when his affair with actress Ava Gardner was exposed and his wife Nancy separated from him. Sinatra's record label dropped him, his radio show was canceled, his talent agency fired him and his film contract with MGM was terminated. Abandoned by the entertainment industry, Sinatra was ruined and washed up, reduced to borrowing money from Ava Gardner.

In 1950 Sinatra saw the script for From Here To Eternity and became enchanted by the character of the Italian soldier Angelo Maggio, for whose part he immediately auditioned. Accepting less than a tenth of his usual fee, Sinatra put his heart into the 1953 film, earning an Academy Award for his performance. Sinatra's film career was reinvigorated, and Capitol Records signed him to a new record deal. With key roles in hit movies like Guys and Dolls and The Man With the Golden Arm, Sinatra became as well-known for his off-the-cuff acting style as his singing, which had not suffered during his short break from performing. His first three albums for Capitol, Young At Heart, Learnin' The Blues, and The Tender Trap, each went platinum, proving that despite leading a controversial personal life, his golden voice was still loved by millions of fans. 1956's landmark Songs for Swinging Lovers brought Sinatra back to the top, now an icon for adults rather than teenagers. He threw his support behind then-Senator John F. Kennedy, who became President in 1960; Sinatra and Kennedy are believed to have shared a girlfriend, Judith Exner, but the two men grew apart when Sinatra's now well-known mob ties became politically embarrassing for the "tough on crime" President.

During the 1960s Sinatra, no longer with Ava Gardner, was romantically linked to actress Lauren Bacall and dancer Juliet Prowse, but did not marry either woman, instead tying the knot with 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow in 1966, a highly controversial move for the 51-year-old Sinatra. The aging singer began performing with "The Rat Pack," composed up of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Sinatra appeared in movies (such as 1960's Ocean's Eleven), toured, and recorded with the 'Pack in various combinations; the group became known for their uniqueslang and "swinging" image. Sinatra maintained his tough reputation by threatening club owners and musicians whom he didn't like, engaging in occasional drunken outbursts; he was often seen with mob figures such as Sam Giancana, a close friend.

"Old Blue Eyes," as he was now known, began to fade from the limelight during the late '60s as he grew older and less relevant to contemporary music. Following his last No. 1 hit, 1966's "Strangers in the Night," Sinatra began experimenting with jazz and other forms of music, but became stale. On March 23, 1971 heannounced his retirement from music, eager to spend more time with his family, including the three children he had with Nancy:
Nancy Sandra (1940), Franklin Wayne Emmanuel (Frank Jr.) (1944), and Christina (Tina) (1948).

The following year he switched from a bona fide liberal to a right-wing conservative after he was brought before the House Crime Committee as part of their investigation of the mafia -- Sinatra felt he was being victimized by false accusations. By 1973 he had come out of retirement, releasing the No. 15 album, "Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back," later that year. Though he released several more albums of mixed-quality material, Sinatra's output trickled off during the '70s. In 1976 he married yet again, this time to Barbara Marx, the widow of Zeppo Marx of the Marx Brothers. Though 1980's Trilogy was critically praised, he did not record much during the decade, concentrating on live appearances (including several telethon appearances).In 1993 Sinatra brought new attention to his career by recording a chart-topping duet album with singers such as Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin and Bono from U2;though critically panned (the duets were recorded in separate studios at separate times!),the album was his best-selling release to date. The following year he released his final album, Duets II, more of the same stuff found on his first Duets album. After an 80th birthday performance in 1995, "The Chairman of the Board" retired from music.

Sinatra died of a heart attack at age 82 on May 14, 1998.

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