Born: December 12, 1915 | Died: May 14, 1998 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Francis Albert Sinatra was an American singer who is considered one of the finest vocalists of all time, renowned for his impeccable phrasing and timing. Many critics place him alongside Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and The Beatles as one of the most important popular music figures of the 20th century.
Sinatra launched a second career as a dramatic film actor, and became admired for a screen persona distinctly tougher than his smooth singing style. Sinatra also had a larger-than-life presence in the public eye, and as The Chairman of the Board became an American icon, known for his brash, sometimes swaggering attitude, as embodied by his signature song My Way.
He was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was the only child of a quiet Sicilian fireman father, Anthony Martin Sinatra (1894-1969). Anthony had emigrated to the United States in 1895. His mother, Natalie Della Gavarante (1896-1977), was a talented, tempestuous Ligurian, who worked as a part-time abortionist. She was known as Dolly, and emigrated in 1897. Although it is part of the Sinatra folklore that Frank had an impoverished childhood, he was actually brought up in middle-class surroundings, due to his father's secure job as a fireman, and his mother's strong political ties in Hoboken.
Frank Sinatra decided to become a singer after hearing Bing Crosby on the radio. He began singing in small clubs in New Jersey and eventually attracted the attention of trumpeter and band-leader Harry James.
After a brief stint with James, he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940 where he rose to fame as a singer. His vast appeal to the bobby soxers, as teenage girls were called, revealed a whole new audience for popular music, which had appealed mainly to adults up to that time. It was as a featured singer with Dorsey that Sinatra made his earliest film appearances, such as the 1942 Eleanor Powell/Red Skelton comedy, ''Ship Ahoy'' in which the uncredited singer performed a couple of songs.He later signed with Columbia Records as a solo artist with some success, particularly during the musicians' recording strikes. Vocalists were not part of the musician union and were allowed to record during the ban by using ''a capella'' vocal backing. Sinatra's singing career was in decline in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Sinatra had begun appearing in movies in the early 1940s, but usually in musicals, often undistinguished ones. He also appeared on a weekly television show on CBS for two years from 1950-1952 (and would try again for one year on ABC from 1957-1958). Sinatra then launched a second career as a full-fledged dramatic actor by playing scrappy Pvt. Angelo Maggio in eve-of-Pearl Harbor drama ''From Here to Eternity'' (1953), for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. This role and performance became legendary at the time as the key comeback moment in Sinatra's career.
The following year, Sinatra played a crazed, coldblooded assassin determined to kill the President in the thriller ''Suddenly''; critics found Sinatra's performance one of the most chilling portrayals of a psychopath ever committed to film. This was followed in 1955 by his portrayal of a heroin addict in 1955's ''The Man with the Golden Arm'', for which he received an Academy Award Best Actor nomination.Soon after ''From Here to Eternity'', Sinatra's singing career rebounded. During the 1950s, he signed with Capitol Records, where he worked with many of the finest arrangers of the era, most notably Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Billy May, and with whom he made a series of highly regarded recordings. By the early 1960s, he was a big enough star to start his own record label: Reprise Records. His position with the label earned him the long-lasting nickname The Chairman of the Board.In the 1950s and 1960s, Sinatra was a popular attraction in Las Vegas. He was friends with many other entertainers, including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, actor Peter Lawford, comedian Joey Bishop, and sometimes Shirley MacLaine. They formed the core of the Rat Pack, a loose group of entertainers who were friends and socialized together. Sinatra played a major role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos in the 1960s. Sinatra led his fellow members of the Rat Pack in refusing to patronize hotels and casinos that denied service to Sammy Davis Jr., a black man. As the Rat Pack became the subject of great media attention due to the release of the film ''Ocean's Eleven'' (1960), many hotels and casinos, desiring the attention that would come from the presence of Sinatra and the Rat Pack in their properties, relented on their policies of segregation. Sinatra was close to the Kennedy family and was a friend and strong supporter of President John F. Kennedy. Years later, Sinatra's youngest daughter Tina would state that Sinatra and mob figure Sam Giancana had helped Kennedy win a crucial primary election in 1960 by helping to deliver the union vote.
Sinatra resumed his strong film work with the 1962 paranoid classic The Manchurian Candidate, in which he plays the troubled, frequently blinking, but nonetheless resolute protagonist. In 1965's Von Ryan's Express, Sinatra added dimensionality to a World War II action role. Other film appearances during this time were either cameos or, as in the case of 1964's Robin and the Seven Hoods, critically-panned efforts to trade in on his image.In the 1970s Sinatra staged a retirement and several comebacks, recording less frequently but continuing to perform in Las Vegas and around the world.In 1981 Sinatra's Nevada casino license was reinstated after hearings by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Indeed, journalist Pete Hamill wrote in his book, Why Sinatra Matters, that Sinatra was the most investigated American performer since John Wilkes Booth. Sure, I knew some of those guys, Sinatra himself said. I spent a lot of time in saloons. And saloons are not run by the Christian Brothers. There were a lot of guys around, and they came out of Prohibition, and they ran pretty good saloons. I was a kid. I worked in the places that were open. They paid you, and the checks didn't bounce. I didn't meet any Nobel Prize winners in saloons. But if Francis of Assisi was a singer and worked in saloons, he would've met the same guys.In 1986, investigative journalist Kitty Kelley published a biography of Sinatra entitled ''His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra''. Sinatra went to court to try to prevent it from being published, bring a $2 million lawsuit against her because he believed that the book painted him in an unattractive light, and he accused her of misrepresenting herself as his authorized biographer. He later withdrew his lawsuit amid much publicity and the book went on to become number one on the ''New York Times'' best seller list and was a huge seller not only in the US but also in England, Canada, and Australia. Another Sinatra nemesis, the Hollywood gossip columnist Rona Barrett, came closer to a depiction of his character in her roman a clef, The Lovo-maniacs, which attempted a fictional insight into his complex personality. Sinatra's singing career continued into the 1990s, most notably with his commercially-successful ''Duets'' albums on which he sang with other stars such as U2's Bono. He continued to perform live until February 1995, but the nearly 80-year-old singer often had to rely on teleprompters for his lyrics, to compensate for his failing memory.
Sinatra was married to his childhood sweetheart, Nancy Barbato, in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 4, 1939. They had three children together: Nancy Sinatra (born June 8, 1940), Frank Sinatra, Jr. (born January 10, 1944), and Christine Tina Sinatra (born June 20, 1948). Although Sinatra did not remain faithful to his wife, he was by many accounts a devoted father. However, his affair with Ava Gardner became public and the couple was separated in 1950. They were divorced on October 29, 1951 despite Nancy Sr.'s (as she was sometimes known) religious qualms and objections. According to public reports Frank and Nancy Sr. remained on at least civil terms, if not better, and Nancy would recount how Frank still loved her cooking and would send someone by to pick up her home-made specialties many decades after they separated.Sinatra married the actress Ava Gardner on November 7, 1951, only ten days after his divorce from his first wife became final. They were separated on October 27, 1953 but were not divorced until 1957. She was considered to be his truest love, but that did not guarantee marital success and stability in Hollywood.Sinatra asked actress Lauren Bacall, whom he had been seeing since shortly after her husband Humphrey Bogart died in 1957, to marry him, but reneged when word of their relationship became public.On December 8, 1963, Frank Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped. Sinatra paid the kidnappers' $240,000 ransom demand (even offering $1,000,000 if only his son would be returned, though the kidnappers bizarrely turned this offer down), and his son was released unharmed on December 10. Because the kidnappers demanded that Sinatra call them only from payphones, Sinatra carried a roll of dimes with him throughout the ordeal, and this became a lifetime habit. The kidnappers were subsequently apprehended and convicted.Sinatra married actress Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior, in 1966. They were divorced two years later.In 1976, Sinatra married Barbara Blakeley Marx (formerly married to Zeppo Marx), who converted to Catholicism to marry him. She remained his wife until his death, although her relations with Sinatra's children were consistently portrayed as stormy, something Nancy Sinatra (Jr.) confirmed when she publicly claimed that Barbara had not bothered to call Frank's children even when the end was near, although they were close by, and the children missed the opportunity to be at their father's bedside when he died.
A frequent visitor, property owner and benefactor in the Palm Springs, California area, Sinatra wished to be buried in the desert he grew to love so much. Sinatra died in 1998 at the age of 82 of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California, following a long battle with coronary heart disease, kidney disease, bowel cancer, and senility. His funeral was held on May 20th at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Sinatra's last words were (according to his daughter Nancy Sinatra, as told to ''Variety'' senior columnist Army Archerd): I'm losing.Sinatra was buried a few miles away from Palm Springs next to his parents in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, a quiet, unassuming cemetery near his famous compound in Rancho Mirage which is located on the beautiful, tree-lined thoroughfare that bears his name. His longtime friend Jilly Rizzo, who died in a Rancho Mirage car crash in 1992, is buried nearby as is pop star, former Palm Springs mayor and Congressman, Sonny Bono. Legend has it that Sinatra was buried with a flask of Jack Daniel's whiskey, a roll of ten dimes (in reference to the kidnapping of his son, see above), a lighter (which some take to be a reference to his mob connections) and a packet of Camel cigarettes. The words The Best is Yet to Come are imprinted on his tombstone.