Frank Sinatra became famous for singing big band numbers. From Here to Eternity earned him an Oscar and dozens of hit songs in the 1940s and 1950s. His work includes iconic songs such as “Love and Marriage,” “Strangers in the Night,” “My Way,” and “New York, New York.” He died in Los Angeles on May 14, 1998.
Early Life and Career
Frank Sinatra Originally from Hoboken, New Jersey, Frank Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915. After watching Bing Crosby perform in the mid-1930s, a teenage Sinatra became a singer. As a high school student, he became a glee club member and began singing in nightclubs. With the help of Harry James, Sinatra made his first recordings, including “All or Nothing at All.” In 1940, Tommy Dorsey invited Sinatra to join his band. After two years of chart-topping success with Dorsey, Sinatra decided to strike out independently.
Sinatra charted a slew of hit singles between 1943 and 1946. His dreamy baritone attracted mobs of bobbysoxer fans, earning him nicknames such as “The Voice” and “The Sultan of Swoon.” Due to a punctured eardrum, Sinatra could not serve in the military during the war years. “I was the corner drugstore boy who had been drafted to war.”
Frank Sinatra made his movie acting debut with Reveille With Beverley and Higher and Higher. For his 10-minute short, The House I Live In, made to promote racial and religious tolerance at home, he won a special Academy Award in 1945. In the early 1950s, Sinatra’s popularity began to wane, resulting in him losing his recording and film contracts. For his portrayal of Italian American soldier Maggio in the classic From Here to Eternity, he won an Oscar for supporting actor in 1953. Sinatra signed a recording contract with Capitol Records in the same year, his first non-singing role. In the 1950s, Sinatra’s voice gained jazzier inflections with a more mature sound.
In the following years, Sinatra enjoyed continued success in movies and music. In addition, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his roles in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). In the meantime, he continued to dominate the charts. Sinatra left Capitol to start his record label, Reprise, by the end of the 1950s. After Warner Bros. acquired Reprise, Sinatra also established Artanis, an independent production company.
No. 1 Tunes and the Rat Pack
Sinatra was back on top by the mid-1960s. With Count Basie’s Orchestra, he headlined the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. During this period, he also debuted Las Vegas at Caesars Palace, where he remained the main attraction for years. In addition to Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, Sinatra epitomized the hard-drinking, womanizing, gambling swinger – an image reinforced by the popular press and Sinatra’s music. In his day, even radical youth had to acknowledge Sinatra’s timeless class and modern edge. According to Jim Morrison of the Doors, “Nobody beats him.”
With Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back (1973), Sinatra returned to the music scene after briefly retiring in the early 1970s. In 1944, while campaigning for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth term in office, Sinatra visited the White House for the first time. He worked hard for John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 and oversaw his inauguration gala. However, the relationship soured after the president canceled a weekend visit to Sinatra’s house due to the singer’s links to Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. It was during the 1970s that Sinatra abandoned his Democratic loyalties and became a Republican. He supported first Richard Nixon and later Ronald Reagan, who awarded Sinatra the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Nancy Barbato was Frank Sinatra’s childhood sweetheart when he married her in 1939. Their marriage unraveled in the late 1940s when Nancy (born in 1940), Frank Sinatra Jr. (born in 1944), and Tina (born in 1948) were born. Sinatra married Ava Gardner in 1951; after their split, Sinatra remarried Mia Farrow in 1966. In 1976, Sinatra married Barbara Blakely Marx, the ex-wife of comedian Zeppo Marx. The marriage ended in divorce as well (in 1968). More than 20 years after Sinatra’s death, the two remained together.
She made headlines in October 2013 when she told Vanity Fair that Sinatra might be the father of her 26-year-old son Ronan, her only biological child with director Woody Allen. “We never really split up,” she said in the interview. In response to the buzz surrounding his mother’s comments, Ronan joked: “Listen, we’re all probably Frank Sinatra’s son.”
Death and Legacy
Sinatra’s unauthorized biography was published by Kitty Kelley in 1987, accusing him of relying on mob connections. Despite such accusations, Sinatra’s popularity remained widespread. Duets, a collection of 13 Sinatra standards rerecorded with Barbra Streisand, Bono, Tony Bennett, and Aretha Franklin in 1993, gained legions of new, younger fans. Although the album was a major hit, some critics criticized Sinatra for recording his vocals before his collaborators did.
Sinatra performed for the last time at the Palm Desert Marriott Ballroom in California. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Sinatra died from a heart attack on May 14, 1998. At 82, he had finally come to the end of his life. Sinatra’s continued mass appeal can be explained by his words: “When I sing, I believe. I’m honest.” James Kaplan wrote the well-received biography Frank: The Voice, published by Doubleday in 2010. A sequel to the book Sinatra: The Chairman was released in 2015 in honor of Sinatra’s centennial.