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Music Storytellers - FRANK SINATRA
Frank Sinatra was arguably the most important popular music figure of the 20th century, his only real rivals for the title being Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles. In a professional career that lasted 60 years, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to maintain his appeal and pursue his musical goals despite often countervailing trends. He came to the fore during the swing era of the 1930s and '40s, helped to define the "sing era" of the '40s and '50s, and continued to attract listeners during the rock era that began in the mid-'50s. He scored his first number one hit in 1940 and was still making million-selling recordings in 1994. This popularity was a mark of his success at singing and promoting the American popular song as it was written, particularly in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. He was able to take the work of great theater composers of that period, such as Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers, and reinterpret their songs for later audiences in a way that led to their rediscovery and their permanent enshrinement as classics. On records and in live performances, on film, radio, and television, he consistently sang standards in a way that demonstrated their perennial appeal.
The son of a fireman, Sinatra dropped out of high school in his senior year to pursue a career in music. In September 1935, he appeared as part of the vocal group the Hoboken Four on Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour. The group won the radio show contest and toured with Bowes. Sinatra then took a job as a singing waiter and MC at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood, NJ. He was still singing there in the spring of 1939, when he was heard over the radio by trumpeter Harry James, who had recently organized his own big band after leaving Benny Goodman. James hired Sinatra, and the new singer made his first recordings on July 13, 1939. At the end of the year, Sinatra accepted an offer from the far more successful bandleader Tommy Dorsey, jumping to his new berth in January 1940. Over the next two and a half years, he was featured on 16 Top Ten hits recorded by Dorsey, among them the chart-topper "I'll Never Smile Again," later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. During this period, he also performed on various radio shows with Dorsey and appeared with the band in the films Las Vegas Nights (1941) and Ship Ahoy (1942).
In January 1942, he tested the waters for a solo career by recording a four-song session arranged and conducted by Axel Stordahl that included Cole Porter's "Night and Day," which became his first chart entry under his own name in March 1942. Soon after, he gave Dorsey notice. Sinatra left the Dorseyband in September 1942. The recording ban called by the American Federation of Musicians, which had begun the previous month, initially prevented him from making records, but he appeared on a 15-minute radio series, Songs By Sinatra, from October through the end of the year and also did a few live dates. His big breakthrough came due to his engagement as a support act to Benny Goodman at the Paramount Theatre in New York, which began on New Year's Eve. It made him a popular phenomenon, the first real teen idol, with school girls swooning in the aisles. RCA Victor, which had been doling out stockpiledDorsey recordings during the strike, scored with "There Are Such Things," which had a Sinatra vocal; it hit number one in January 1943, as did "In the Blue of the Evening," another Dorsey record featuringSinatra, in August, while a third Dorsey/Sinatra release, "It's Always You," hit the Top Five later in the year, and a fourth, "I'll Be Seeing You," reached the Top Ten in 1944. Columbia, which controlled theHarry James recordings, reissued the four-year-old "All or Nothing at All," re-billed as being by Frank Sinatra with Harry James & His Orchestra, and it hit number one in September. Meanwhile, the label had signed Sinatra as a solo artist, and in a temporary loophole to the recording ban, put him in the studio to record a cappella, backed only by a vocal chorus. This resulted in four Top Ten hits in 1943, among them "People Will Say We're in Love" from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's musical Oklahoma!, and a fifth in early 1944 ("I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night") before protests from the musicians union ended a cappella recording.
In February 1943, Sinatra was hired by the popular radio series Your Hit Parade, on which he performed through the end of 1944. Adding to his radio duties, he appeared from June through October on Broadway Bandbox and in the fall again took up the Songs by Sinatra show, which ran through December. In January, it was expanded to a half-hour as The Frank Sinatra Show, which ran for a year and a half. In April 1943, he made his first credited appearance in a motion picture, singing "Night and Day" in Reveille with Beverly. This was followed by Higher and Higher, released in December, in which he had a small acting role, playing himself, and by Step Lively, released in July 1944, which gave him a larger part. MGM was sufficiently impressed by these performances to put him under contract. The recording ban was lifted in November 1944, and Sinatra returned to making records, beginning with a cover of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" that was in the Top Ten before the end of the year. Among his eight recordings to peak in the Top Ten in 1945 were Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)," Johnny Mercer's "Dream," Styne and Cahn's "I Should Care," and "If I Loved You" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel.Sinatra insisted that Styne and Cahn be hired to write the songs for his first MGM musical, Anchors Aweigh, and over the course of his career, the singer recorded more songs by Cahn (a lyricist who worked with several composers) than by any other songwriter. Anchors Aweigh, in which Sinatra was paired with Gene Kelly, was released in July 1945 and went on to become the most successful film of the year.
Sinatra returned to radio in September with a new show bearing an old name, Songs by Sinatra. It ran weekly for the next two seasons, concluding in June 1947. Among his eight Top Ten hits in 1946 were two that hit number one ("Oh! What It Seemed to Be" and Styne andCahn's "Five Minutes More"), as well as "They Say It's Wonderful" and "The Girl That I Marry" from Irving Berlin's musical Annie Get Your Gun, Jerome Kern's "All Through the Day," and Kurt Weill's "September Song." He also topped the album charts with the collectionThe Voice of Frank Sinatra. His only film appearance for the year came in Till the Clouds Roll By, a biography of the recently deceased Kern, in which he sang "Ol' Man River."
By 1947, Sinatra's early success had crested, though he continued to work steadily in several media. On radio, he returned to the cast of Your Hit Parade in September 1947, appearing on the series for the next two seasons, then had his own 15-minute show, Light-Up Time, during 1949-1950. On film, he appeared in five more movies through the end of the decade, including both big-budget MGM musicals like On the Town and minor efforts such as The Kissing Bandit. He scored eight Top Ten hits in 1947-1949, including "Mam'selle," which hit number one in May 1947, and "Some Enchanted Evening," from theRodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific. He also hit the Top Ten of the album charts with 1947's Songs by Sinatra and 1948's Christmas Songs by Sinatra. Sinatra's career was in decline by the start of the '50s, but he was far from inactive. He entered the fall of 1950 with both a new radio show and his first venture into television. On radio, there was Meet Frank Sinatra, which found the singer acting as a disc jockey; it ran through the end of the season. On TV, there was The Frank Sinatra Show, a musical-variety series; it lasted until April 1952. His film work had nearly subsided, though in March 1952 came the drama Meet Danny Wilson, which tested his acting abilities and gave him the opportunity to sing such songs as Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "That Old Black Magic," "I've Got a Crush on You" by George and Ira Gershwin, and "How Deep Is the Ocean?" byIrving Berlin.
At Columbia Records, Sinatra came into increasing conflict with musical director Mitch Miller, who was finding success for his singers by using novelty material and gimmicky arrangements. Sinatra resisted this approach, and though he managed to score four more Top Ten hits during 1950-1951 -- among them an unlikely reading of the folk standard "Goodnight Irene" -- he and Columbia parted ways. Thus, ten years after launching his solo career, he ended 1952 without a record, film, radio, or television contract. Then he turned it all around. The first step was recording. Sinatra agreed to a long-term, boilerplate contract with Capitol Records, which had been co-founded by Johnny Mercer a decade earlier and had a roster full of faded '40s performers. In June 1953, he scored his first Top Ten hit in a year and a half with "I'm Walking Behind You." Then in August, he returned to film, playing a non-singing, featured role in the World War II drama From Here to Eternity, a performance that earned respect for his acting abilities, to the extent that he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the part on March 25, 1954. In the fall of 1953, Sinatra began two new radio series: Rocky Fortune, a drama on which he played a detective, ran from October to March 1954; and The Frank Sinatra Show was a 15-minute, twice-a-week music series that ran for two seasons, concluding in July 1955.
Meanwhile, Sinatra had begun working with arranger/conductorNelson Riddle, a pairing that produced notable chart entries in February 1954 on both the singles and albums charts. "Young-at-Heart," which just missed hitting number one, was the singer's biggest single since 1947, and the song went on to become a standard. (The title was used for a 1955 movie in which Sinatra starred.) Then there was the 10" LP Songs for Young Lovers, the first of Sinatra's "concept" albums, on which he and Riddle revisited classic songs by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Rodgers and Hart in contemporary arrangements with vocal interpretations that conveyed the wit and grace of the lyrics. The album lodged in the Top Five. In July, Sinatra had another Top Ten single with Styne and Cahn's "Three Coins in the Fountain," and in September Swing Easy! matched the success of its predecessor on the LP chart. By the middle of the '50s, Sinatra had reclaimed his place as a star singer and actor; in fact, he had taken a more prominent place than he had had in the heady days of the mid-'40s. In 1955, he hit number one with the single "Learnin' the Blues" and the 12" LP In the Wee Small Hours, a ballad collection later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
On September 15, 1955, he appeared in a television production of Our Town and sang "Love and Marriage" (specially written by Sammy Cahn and his new partner James Van Heusen), which became a Top Five hit. Early in 1956, he was back in the Top Ten with
| Closed on 01/09/13 at 05:00PM
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| Multiple Choice Opinion Poll
|18 Fans|| |
|67%||a. 10 (He did it his way)|
|17%||b. 7-9 (Fly Me to the Moon)|
|11%||c. 5-6 (Strangers in the Night)|
|6%||d. 1-4 (No interest / never heard of him)|
|0%||e. I SUCK!|
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