Frank Sinatra, born 12 December 1915 is possibly the most famous American singer of the entire 20th century and someone whose music continues to be influential to this day. Born to Italian immigrants in Hoboken, New Jersey, Frank Sinatra’s mother worked as a midwife and also ran an illegal abortion service. His father was a boxer who used the name Marty O’Brien but eventually joined the fire department and in time became the department’s captain.
Frank Sinatra’s parents were well off for the time and even during the Great Depression Frank’s mother, Dolly would often give her son money to go out with friends and buy high-end clothes. It was likely due to his driven, and possibly abusive, mother that Sinatra gained the self-confidence and reliance that would later become part of his indelible charm.
Frank Sinatra began his lifelong love of music at an early age listening to jazz, which was very popular at the time. One of Sinatra’s uncle’s, Domenico, gave him a ukulele at his 15th birthday party and shortly thereafter Sinatra began playing on a regular basis both in private and at family gatherings.
After having briefly entered a musical career with a group that only allowed him to join because he had a vehicle and could chauffeur them and their instruments around, Frank Sinatra found solo success with Columbia Records, signing a contract in 1943. His first solo album was the “Voice of Frank Sinatra” released in 1946. However, despite some early career success, his work began to slow down and in the early 50s, his career had stalled.
Sinatra took the opportunity to go to Las Vegas and quickly became one of its best-known musical performers as part of the Rat Pack which at various times consisted of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop and he performed at regularly packed shows in this growing entertainment capital for the social elite.
During this period, the early 1950s, Frank Sinatra showed that he not only had some musical talent but also acting talent as well, winning a Golden Globe award for best supporting actor and an Academy Award for the movie From Here to Eternity.
Throughout the 1950s Sinatra continued to release highly popular albums such as “In the Wee Small Hours” in 1955, “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” in 1956, and the continually popular “Come Fly with Me” in 1958 and in the same year he released the album “Only the Lonely.”
Despite the regular release of record-breaking albums, Frank Sinatra continued with his successful movie acting career as well. After his award-winning performance for From Here to Eternity, his star continued to rise with movies such as The Man with the Golden Arm in 1955 and The Manchurian Candidate in 1962. He even regularly appeared in some of the highest-rated musicals of all time such as On the Town that debuted in 1949, the still popular Guys and Dolls from 1955, and High Society in 1956. He even won a second Golden Globe for his exemplary performance in the musical Pal Joey that debuted in 1957.
One might think for an exceptionally talented musician and musical actor that Frank Sinatra would have been a master of nearly all fields of music but the truth is Frank Sinatra never learned to actually read music but he continued to have an innate understanding of its character, build, and how it operated functionally if not academically.
Even from a young age, Frank Sinatra worked diligently, and some might even say that he was a perfectionist. He worked towards improving his understanding and ability to perform and produce music. His perfectionism extended to other aspects of his life which helped lead to his excellent stage presence when performing in live bands and his sudden swings of creativity which fit his genre of music so well.
However, despite a flourishing professional life, Frank Sinatra, who had been given the nickname “Ol blue eyes” by many of his fans, had an unfortunately colourful and roguish personal life. He was involved in many affairs during his first marriage which was to Nancy in 1939 and with whom he had three children, Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina including one with a woman who would become his second wife, the actress Ava Gardner whom he married in 1951 following his divorce from Nancy. The couple had many publicised fights and their divorce was finally settled in 1957, although they remained life-long friends with Sinatra even looking after her finances.
He was involved with Lauren Bacall and Juliet Prowse but married Mia Farrow in 1966 only to divorce her two years later. He then went on to marry Barbara Marx in 1976 with whom he remained until his death.
Throughout his career, Frank Sinatra also displayed occasional violent tendencies towards those who he felt had slighted him or with whom he had a significant differing of opinion. He was also associated with many U.S. presidents including Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan but he was closest to John F. Kennedy often inviting him to his home in Hollywood where they would enjoy parties together. However, Kennedy snubbed Sinatra in 1962 when the FBI launched an investigation into his alleged connections to the mafia.
Whilst Frank Sinatra dismissed any claims of affiliation with the mafia it is known that he was present at the Mafia Havana Conference in 1946 with Lucky Luciano. He played golf with Sam Giancana and was allegedly and admirer of Bugsy Siegel.
However, despite it all, Frank Sinatra became an American icon and was repeatedly given high honours including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded to him in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan and the Congressional Gold Medal awarded in 1997. Over his long career, he won 11 Grammy awards including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and even made the list of Time’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Frank Sinatra died on 14 May 1998 in Los Angeles at the age of 82 following a heart attack, but his legacy and his music continue to live on in the hearts of members of each successive generation that has a love of swing and jazz music.