Frank Sinatra – The Voice That Thrilled Millions Part One of Three

Written by Dennis Munday
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/Frank Sinatra P 1 1.

Francis Albert ‘Frank’ Sinatra (December 12, 1915 Hoboken, New Jersey - May 14, 1998 Los Angeles, California), was one of the greatest and most influential vocalist of the 20th century. As well as being a successful singer, who recorded over sixty albums, he was also a successful actor and starred in more than fifty motion pictures. Sinatra won an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Supporting Actor, for his portrayal of Private Angelo Maggio in

From Here to Eternity. He was married three times, the first to Nancy Barbato, the second to Mia Farrow, and the third to Barbara Marx. He had three children with his first wife, Nancy, Tina, and Frank Jr. During an interview for Vanity Fair in 2013, Mia Farrow claimed that Sinatra might have fathered her son Ronan Farrow. However, there is no DNA or any other evidence to support this statement. Sinatra also squired some of the most famous, and glamorous women in Hollywood, far too many to mention in this article.

Frank Sinatra P 1 2.Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sinatra was the only child of Italian immigrants Saverio Antonino Martino ‘Martin’ Sinatra and Natalie ‘Dolly’ Sinatra (nee Garaventa). His illiterate father was a firefighter and his mother an amateur singer who often sang at social events. It was nearly all over for Sinatra before he was born as the midwife struggled to deliver the infant. When the doctor arrived, he clamped metal forceps around the head and pulled so hard to extricate the baby that the face was damaged. Sinatra bore the scars both physical and psychological, throughout his life.

Sinatra’s mother chose to become a midwife and an abortionist, and known as ‘Hatpin Dolly’. She also became a facilitator for new Italian immigrants applying for citizenship papers. Sinatra’s mother was a dominant (Italian) matriarchal figure who ruled over her husband and child with a rod of iron. As she wanted a baby girl, she would dress Sinatra in pink baby clothes, and Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits. His Mother once pushed him down a flight of stairs, knocking him unconscious, and regularly chastised him with a stick. Sinatra revealed to the actress Shirley MacLaine that his mother; “scared the shit outta me.”

As he grew up in the tough neighbourhood, Sinatra desperately wanted to be part of a gang, and tried to buy friendship with gifts and handouts. The other kids mocked him, and his Hoboken contemporaries portrayed him as a lightweight, who couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag. During early adolescence, he became aware of his more sensitive side, with his emotions flowing rapidly from happy to sad to miserable to ecstatic to bored. He was ashamed of these feelings, thinking them to be girly, and kept them a secret, as did the thrill he felt on hearing Harry Lillis ‘Bing’ Crosby’s voice. Sinatra dropped out of school just before his sixteenth birthday, perhaps trying to reinforce his bad-boy credentials. His mother was angry and screamed at him; “If you think you’re going to be a goddamned loafer, you’re crazy.” She had wanted Sinatra to become a doctor or a civil engineer.

Although the family lived in a poor neighbourhood, Sinatra had the luxury of having his own bedroom and radio, which was fast becoming the medium of the day. At night, he listened to his two biggest influences, Rudy Vallée and Bing Crosby and, not only did he want to sing like Crosby, he knew he could. Crosby was one of the best-selling recording artists of the 20th century, with over half a billion records in circulation. His intimate singing style influenced many of the popular male singers who followed him, including Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin and, he is considered to be the Daddy of ‘crooning’.

Sinatra began singing for tips at the age of eight, standing on top of the bar at a local nightclub in Hoboken. He learned music by ear though he never learned to read music. Sinatra’s professional career commenced in the 1930s, and his first break came in 1935, when his mother persuaded (bribed/threatened) a local singing group known as The Three Flashes to let him join. After changing their name to The Hoboken Four, their big break came when they appeared on the radio talent show; ‘Major Bowes and his Amateur Hour’ (the X-Factor of its day). They received more than forty thousand votes, and a six-month contract to perform on stage and radio across the United States.



After leaving The Hoboken Four, Sinatra returned home, where his mother secured him a job as a singing waiter and MC at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood NJ, for the salary of $15 a week. Sinatra made the ferry ride to Manhattan to talk WNEW Radio Station into broadcasting his show, and they gave him eighteen spots on their Dance Parade radio show. As he wanted to smooth out his ‘Jersey’ accent, Sinatra took singing lessons from vocal coach John Quinlan. Sinatra had now established himself and it was his intention to attract the attention of one of the big ‘Swing Era’ bandleaders. During the forties, big bands filled the ballrooms and theatres from coast to coast, and their leaders looked upon like modern day rock stars.

With his long-standing girlfriend Nancy Barbato, Sinatra went to see Bing Crosby performing live in New Jersey, an event that greatly inspired him. However, even then the lad had an eye for the girls. Sinatra was arrested for a ‘breach of promise charge’ and, after posting $1,500 bail, released from custody. Antoinette Della Penta dropped the complaint when it was confirmed that she was already married. Nancy was outraged and asked Sinatra; “Was she the first?” To which Sinatra replied; “no, but she’s the last,” a comment that would return to haunt him during his later life. Sinatra married Nancy on February 4, 1939, at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Jersey City. After their honeymoon, Nancy continued to work as a secretary while Sinatra sang at the Rustic Cabin. Sinatra’s overbearing Mother never cared for his new wife, perhaps seeing her as being too ‘Catholic’ for her son.

Sinatra made his first (demo) recording on March 18, 1939, of a song called ‘Our Love’, (based on the melody from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet). This was recorded at the Harry Smith Studios, with the Frank Mane band. As the Sinatra family had demanded all the rights and profits to the song, Mane kept the original record in a safe for nearly sixty years. . There was a significant breakthrough in June 1939, when Harry James hired Sinatra on a one-year contract and paid Sinatra $75 a week. In July, he released his first commercial record with the band entitled ‘From the Bottom of My Heart’. It sold less than 8,000 copies, making it a collector’s item, and much sought after. Sinatra released several commercial tracks with James, which included ‘All or Nothing At All’, though this record didn’t sell at the time.

In November 1939, Sinatra met up with Tommy Dorsey at the Palmer House in Chicago, a meeting that would prove to be a turning point in his career. Dorsey fronted one of the hottest bands in the USA and wanted to replace his current vocalist Jack Leonard with Sinatra. If he accepted the gig, Sinatra’s visibility would be much higher than in the James band. Although holding him under contract, James recognized the opportunity for Sinatra and graciously released him for nothing. Sinatra acknowledged this debt throughout his life, and upon hearing of James’ death in 1983, stated; “he is the one that made it all possible.” He also read the eulogy at James’s funeral. As his surname sounded too ‘Eye-talian’, Dorsey wanted to rename him as Frankie Satin. Sinatra had already tried to change his name to Trent earlier in his career, but his mother blew a fuse, and he insisted on going with Sinatra.

Sinatra’s first public appearance with the Dorsey band was at The Coronado Theatre in Rockford, Illinois, on January 26, 1940. During his inaugural year, he released the song ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’, which topped the charts for twelve weeks and achieved his first great success. Sintra is famed for his phrasing and he claimed to have learnt breath control from watching Dorsey play trombone. Another member of the Dorsey band was trombonist Nelson Riddle, who later had a very successful partnership with Sinatra as his arranger and conductor. Also in the band, playing drums was Buddy Rich, though where they found the stages big enough to house their enormous egos beats me. Sinatra also sang with Dorsey’s vocal group The Pied Pipers, which included Rosemary Clooney, whose nephew George made something of himself in the movies.

It wasn’t long before Sinatra became as well known as the Dorsey band and he was decidedly unhappy with the contract that he had (stupidly?) signed. Sinatra was only making $150 a week and knew he could make more as a solo artist, plus the bandleader would receive 43% of his lifetime earnings. Sinatra’s representatives are reputed to have offered Dorsey $60,000 to tear up the contract. However, Dorsey refused, he was a shrewd operator and knew the offer was just a drop in the ocean as to what he would earn in the long term. Sinatra’s ‘Godfather’, Guarino ‘Willie’ Moretti (an underboss of the Genovese Mafia family), allegedly coerced Dorsey to let Sinatra out of his contract. He reputedly jammed the barrel of a gun into the trombonist’s mouth and got him to release Sinatra from his obligations, in exchange for one dollar. Something he boasted about to his criminal friends. Dorsey spoke about the incident to a reporter from American Mercury magazine in 1951. He described a meeting with three men who; “talked out of the sides of their mouths and ordered him to sign or else.” According to the official Sinatra family website, it states that Dorsey was finally persuaded (sic) to take $75,000, and some additional bookings, in exchange for releasing Sinatra from his contractual obligations.

Sinatra-maniaSinatra’s solo career took off, and he was the first singer to appeal directly to teenage girls (‘bobby-soxers’), as in the past records were aimed at a more mature listener. On December 30, 1942, he played the Paramount Theatre and the term ‘Sinatra-mania’ was born. Billed as ‘The Voice That Has Thrilled Millions’, his original two-week engagement was extended for eight additional weeks, shattering Bing Crosby’s attendance record. Five thousand ‘bobby-soxers’ packed the theatre and Sinatra recalled that when he walked out on stage; “the sound that greeted me, was absolutely deafening, a tremendous roar.” These teenage girls screamed and applauded every note that ‘The Sultan of Swoon’ sang with some even fainting. The legendary comedian Jack Benny stated; “I thought the goddamned building was going to cave in; I never heard such a commotion. All this for a fellow I never heard of.”

In March 1943, Sinatra signed a contract with Columbia Records (CBS/Sony), although his first release was ‘All or Nothing at All’, which he’d recorded earlier with Harry James. It was his first million-seller and went on be a Sinatra classic. The reason for this was that on August 1, 1942, the American Federation of Musicians organized a strike against the major recording companies over royalty payments. This industrial action forced the companies to record without orchestral backups and release earlier material that the companies had accumulated in their archives. Although Decca settled in September 1943, most of the other record companies held out until 1944.

Sinatra’s Columbia period wasn’t as successful as anticipated, at the time Mitch Miller was their chief A & R man and leant towards MOR wallpaper music. During Millers’ tenure, he’d turned down Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and The Beatles. The music historian Will Friedwald wrote the following; ‘Miller exemplified the worst in American pop. He first aroused the ire of intelligent listeners by trying to turn, and darn near succeeding in turning, great artists like Sinatra, Clooney, and Tony Bennett into hacks. Miller chose the worst songs and put together the worst backings imaginable. Not with the hit-or-miss attitude that bad musicians traditionally used, but with insight, forethought, careful planning, and perverted brilliance.’ Sinatra cut close on to three hundred sides (tracks), of which Axel Stordahl arranged three-quarters. Stordahl, who had worked with Tommy Dorsey, created a soft, lavish sound, with understated rhythms, woodwinds, and lush strings.

When Sinatra returned to the Paramount on October 11, 1944, 30,000 fans turned up and, as the majority of the fans were unable to get in, a near riot ensued. They vented their frustrations by smashing shop windows and it took the police until late that night to contain his fans. It became known as the Columbus Day Riot and the New York’s Sunday News compared the mass hysteria with the silent-screen star Rudolph Valentino’s funeral.

As Sinatra had a perforated eardrum, he was not required to serve in WWII and listed 4F (not acceptable for military service). There was also an FBI report that stated he was ‘neurotic’ and ‘not acceptable material from a psychiatric standpoint’, which was initially omitted from his record. The journalist William Manchester, who had enlisted, said of Sinatra; “I think Frank Sinatra was the most hated man of World War II, much more than Hitler, because he was safe at home, making a lot of money, and shown in photographs surrounded by beautiful women.” The noted columnist Walter Winchell stated that Sinatra paid $40,000 to avoid serving though the FBI found no evidence that this bribe took place. His exemption resurfaced throughout his life and he had to defend himself continuously. Although Sinatra did not serve in the Armed Forces, along with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers, The Andrews Sisters, Marilyn Monroe, Phil Silvers, and many other stars, they entertained the troops and raised war bonds.

For years, Sinatra denied any ties with ‘The Mafia’, stating that many of the meetings were accidental, and he just happened to be singing or staying in the same hotel as these notorious gangsters. The Sinatra’s ran a tavern called ‘Marty O’Brien’s’, which was frequented by the likes of Meier ‘Meyer Lansky’ Suchowlański, Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, Salvatore ‘Charles 'Lucky' Luciano’ Lucania, and Arthur ‘Dutch Schultz’ Flegenheimer. Luciano was born in the same Sicilian village as Sinatra’s grandfather. Marty Sinatra bought illicit booze and even rode shotgun for the bootleggers, and Sinatra’s uncles were of the criminal fraternity.

Frank Sinatra Lucky  Luciano Lucani

Joseph Fischetti, who worked for Al Capone, with his brother Charles and Rocco, persuaded Sinatra to fly to Havana on February 11, 1947, to meet the ‘guys’. All the big shots attended including, ‘Lucky’ Luciano, Willie’ Moretti, Umberto ‘Alberto ‘The Executioner’ Anastasia, Giuseppe Carlo ‘Joe’ Bonanno , Gaetano ‘Tommy 'Three Fingers Brown’ Lucchese, Antonino Joseph ‘Tony’ Accardo, Carlos ‘The Little Man’ Marcello, and Santo Trafficante. This meeting put him on the FBI’s radar, where he would remain for the rest of his life. After Sinatra’s death, The FBI published a 1,275-page dossier recording decades of their surveillance, which stemmed from J. Edgar Hoover’s belief that Sinatra had mob or communist ties.

As he deplaned, the FBI photographed Sinatra carrying a suitcase and, an unconfirmed story surfaced that Sinatra was carrying $100 000 in notes, which the Fischetti brothers owed to ‘Lucky’ Luciano, who was living in Havana. When this fraternising was reported in the American press, Sinatra claimed that he was asked if he wouldn’t mind meeting a few people at the Casino. He responded; “I couldn’t refuse, and I went through some routine introductions, scarcely paying attention to the names. One happened to be ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Even if I’d caught his name, I probably wouldn’t have associated it with the notorious underworld character. I sat down at a table for about 15 minutes. Then I went back to my hotel. Years later Sinatra said that he had no idea that he was being taken to a major mob convention.

The meetings in Havana backfired as in December 1950, a Senate committee headed by Joe Nellis was set up to investigate the Mafia, and called him to account. The questioning would have taken place in public, but the committee decided to interview Sinatra in secrecy. Sinatra was nervous and scared, more so after the committee produced a photo of him with his arm around Luciano on his hotel balcony. They also produced a second photo, with the two of them surrounded by booze and girls, as well as the one of Sinatra leaving the airplane carrying a case. When asked about The Fischetti brothers, Sinatra replied that it was just a coincidence them being in Havana at the same time, and he hardly knew them. Nellis read off a long list of mobsters, which included Giuseppe Antonio ‘Joe Adonis’ Doto, ‘Bugsy’ Siegel , Abner ‘Longie’ Zwillman, Francesco ‘Frank 'The Prime Minister' Costello’ Castiglia, and Meyer Lansky, and asked Sinatra how he had come to know the men. Sinatra said he had just happened to meet them at his concerts. Nellis asked; “have you ever had any business dealings with any of these men.” Sinatra responded; “No business, just hello and goodbye.” When asked what was in the infamous case, Sinatra replied; “sketching materials, crayons, shaving equipment and general toiletries.” Sketching was a hobby that Sinatra pursued.

Lucky LucianoWhen questioned about organised crime he replied; “I’ve heard about ‘The Mafia’ and thought that it was some kind of shakedown operation.” Nellis was never in any doubt that Sinatra had lied to the committee, but knew he was never going to admit that he was a bagman for ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Not wanting it to look like the committee was victimising the popular singer, Nellis decided against taking it further, which let Sinatra off the hook. When the Polizia in Naples searched ‘Lucky’ Luciano’s home several years later, they found a gold cigarette case with the inscription; ‘To my dear pal ‘Lucky’ from his friend, Frank Sinatra’. Clyde Tolson, Deputy FBI Director, received a letter from Sinatra, on September 17, 1950, offering his services to the FBI as an informer. ‘He feels he can be of help as a result of going anywhere the Bureau desires and contacting any people from whom he might be able to obtain information. Sinatra feels as a result of his publicity he can operate without suspicion ... he is willing to go the whole way.’ The FBI declined his assistance.

These gangsters beguiled both Sinatra and his friend Phil Silvers. Silvers wife stated; “they would brag about ‘what he’d [‘Bugsy’ Siegal] done and how many people he’d killed. Sometimes they’d argue about whether ‘Bugsy’ preferred to shoot his victims or simply chop them up with axes.” She recorded the awe Frank had in his voice when he talked about him. Organised crime was a huge ‘underground’ economy in the USA with one of its bosses openly boasting that it [The Mafia] was bigger than General Motors.

Sinatra’s movie career commenced in 1941, singing with Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (unaccredited), in the musical Las Vegas Nights, and he reprised the role, appearing once again unaccredited, in Ship Ahoy. In 1944, he appeared in his debut movie Step Lively and in 1945 starred alongside Kathryn Grayson and Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. Sinatra starred in The House I live In, which was written by Albert Maltz. Maltz was one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ who were jailed in 1950 for their refusal to testify before the US Congress about their involvement with the US Communist Party. This short film dealt with anti-Semitism and racial prejudice and received an Honorary Academy Award, as well as a special Golden Globe award in 1946.

Sinatra starred in Till The Clouds Roll By, a fictional biopic of composer Jerome Kern with Judy Garland and appeared alongside Kathryn Grayson, Peter Lawford, and Jimmy Durante in It Happened in Brooklyn. In Take Me Out to the Ball Game, directed by Busby Berkeley, Sinatra starred alongside Esther Williams, & Gene Kelly. Sinatra’s last film with Gene Kelly was On The Town, which Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen. This movie is famous as it combines studio and outside locations in New York. As Sinatra was so thin, they had to pad out the seat of his uniform. Leonard Bernstein and Roger Edens composed the music though as Bernstein’s arrangements were considered to be too operatic, they were dropped in favour of new songs by Edens. This led to Bernstein boycotting the movie. Later, Gene Kelly stated; “We’ve made better pictures than that, but that was the apex of our talent. That was it.”

Frank Sinatra Gene Kelly Out on The Town.

Part Two Here

Part Three Here 

 

Read 1478 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 April 2015 16:08

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