Frank Sinatra, who was the greatest popular singer of all time, died 18 years ago at the age of 82. He was born on Dec 12, 1915 in Hoboken, NJ and would have been 100 years old this week. I watched a celebratory tribute to him by CBS entitled Sinatra 100: An All-Star Grammy Concert, performed in Las Vegas, where the best of today’s singers sang his songs, including Adam Levine, Harry Connick Jr., Carrie Underwood, Celine Dion, Garth Brooks, John Legend and the ever-young Tony Bennett. Lady Gaga brought the house down with the finale “New York, New York,” dressed in a tuxedo like Frank. Frank’s crooning voice had an edge to it that was unique, sincere and immediately recognizable, particularly when he was young.
Frank Sinatra was a significant influence on me and my group of friends when we were adolescents. Almost every weekend we would gather at one friend’s house and listen to LPs of Frankie singing the great songs and we were mesmerized by him. I learnt all the words to his songs and even today I can reproduce them almost without effort. Needless to say his life story became part of our lives, and his sometimes less than gentlemanly behavior was a standard that we sought to project. That tough, edgy persona and the smooth crooning voice, what a combination! Although Frank lost a lot of popular support when he left Nancy and stalked Ava Gardner to Africa, he remained a hero in our book for courting and winning such as beautiful woman. His comeback in 1953 as the Italian American under-dog Maggio in the movie “From Here To Eternity” for which he won a supporting-actor Oscar was memorable and remarkable.
What is not so widely known is that Frank was a strong supporter of civil rights, and he practiced what he preached by helping numerous black entertainers, notably Sammy Davis Jr., whom he helped recuperate after a terrible car accident. Frank was also a strong supporter of Israel, he endowed a dormitory at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that bears his name and he established several youth clubs in Israel where Jewish and Arab youths could meet and play soccer. He was also a benefactor of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and other good causes.
Times have moved on, fashions have changed, but when I hear that voice soaring into the stratosphere I am back as a young man in the dream world of yesteryear. May it ever be so.