When the young singer Frank Sinatra saw his idol Bing Crosby at a concert in Jersey City in 1932, he made the decision to one day become a successful singer himself. At the age of 17, Sinatra was already making small appearances on local radio. In his early years, Frank Sinatra was a member of the vocal quartet The Hoboken Four, which consisted of young singers of Italian-American origin. Together with this vocal quartet, Sinatra won a talent contest in 1935, and a tour of the United States with his ensemble followed.
Beginnings in show business
His success in the talent contest brought Frank Sinatra to the attention of show business: in the late 1930s Frank Sinatra worked in a music bar in New Jersey, which was regularly frequented by numerous greats of the music world of the time, including Cole Porter. The engagement in the music bar in New Jersey opened the door for Sinatra to further radio appearances and his first solo recording Our Love in March 1939. His recordings sold poorly at first: only a few thousand copies of his first recordings were sold, he was far away from his later reception.
First Number One Hit
Sinatra learned to sing by ear, not taking professional singing or music lessons at first. It was only after Sinatra made his first recordings that he took singing lessons, increasing the range of his voice.
In the spring of 1939, Frank Sinatra was discovered by the then very famous bandleader Harry James and signed for his big band. But Sinatra soon parted ways with Harry James: he felt that in James’ big band he would never get his longed-for breakthrough.
As part of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, which he joined in 1940, he achieved his breakthrough after a few months with the number one hit I’ll Never Smile Again.
Frank Sinatra’s career breakthrough came in the middle of the swing era: Sinatra was able to embody the ease and lightheartedness of the swing era with his singing style. In the early forties, Frank Sinatra landed countless hits as a singer with Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and laid the foundation for his further singing career.
After some time with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Frank Sinatra felt the need to go into business for himself: In the summer of 1943, Sinatra received a permanent record contract with Columbia. As before, he used the radio to increase his fame: in the mid-forties, Frank Sinatra hits aired on the radio several times a week.
Sinatra’s career was not limited to music: in 1945 he made the film The House I Live In. In the film Sinatra plays the only leading role. Frank Sinatra had become an idol of his generation: However, Sinatra could not continue his almost endless series of number one hits in the fifties. It even got to the point where his singing career seemed to be at an end: in 1952 he lost his recording contract with Columbia.
Sinatra desperately needed to find something to keep him in show business: in 1952 he applied for a role in Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity (1953). Zinnemann was initially skeptical about casting a singer in his military drama. However, Zinnemann settled on casting Sinatra in a supporting role: Sinatra won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role.
Singer Frank Sinatra had realized that the film industry was a good way to stay in the public eye: Now that his singing career seemed at an end, Sinatra starred in as many as four films a year. Among the films in which he participated were successful productions such as High Society (1956) alongside Grace Kelly. Films in which Sinatra starred were always accompanied by vocal interludes by him – so he remained known to the cinema audience as a singer.
His success in cinema productions persuaded Capitol Records to sign a recording contract with Sinatra in 1953. The record contract formed the basis for many of his hits that are still known today, including Come Fly with Me, My Way, or Fly Me To the Moon.
By the 1960s, he had made his big comeback: in 1960 he was able to found his own record label, Reprise Records, with which he would henceforth release his hits.
In 1966, Frank Sinatra recorded Strangers in the Night: The composition by Bert Kaempfert, Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder was the biggest success of his career to that date and is still one of his signature tunes. In 1968 Frank Sinatra recorded his big hit My Way: The song was based on an English adaptation of the French chanson Comme d’habitude. The English adaptation was written by Paul Anka.
After numerous hits, Frank Sinatra intended to retire from the stage in 1971 and not to perform anymore. It took two years before Sinatra revoked his announcement and appeared again regularly from 1973 until his death. Among the later hits of his career is the song Theme from New York, New York.
Frank Sinatra stood on a stage for the last time on November 19, 1995. He spent the last years of his life at his Beverly Hills estate. On May 14, 1998, Sinatra died in Los Angeles.
Simon von Ludwig
Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig