“May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine.” – Frank Sinatra
Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was the only child of Italian immigrants Natalina “Dolly” Garaventa and Antonino Martino “Marty” Sinatra. He was a large baby at birth weighing 13.5 pounds and had to be delivered with the aid of forceps, which caused severe scarring to his left cheek, neck, and ear, and perforated his ear drum, damage that remained for life. He also was scarred on his neck after a childhood operation on his mastoid bone.
As a youth he would develop an interest in music, especially big band jazz. Sinatra would spend much of his time at his parents’ tavern in Hoboken, working on his homework and occasionally singing a song on top of the player piano for spare change. Sinatra’s maternal uncle, Domenico, gave him a ukulele for his 15th birthday, and he began performing at family gatherings. Sinatra attended David E. Rue Jr. High School from 1928, and A. J. Demarest High School in 1931, where he arranged bands for school dances. He left without graduating, having attended only 47 days before being expelled for “general rowdiness”. He spent his time performing in local Hoboken social clubs such as The Cat’s Meow and The Comedy Club, and sang for free on radio stations such as WAAT in Jersey City. To improve his speech, he began taking elocution lessons for a dollar each from vocal coach John Quinlan.
In 1935, his mother persuaded a local singing group, the 3 Flashes, to let him join. With Sinatra, they became known as The Hoboken Four. In March 1939, saxophone player Frank Mane arranged for him to audition and record “Our Love”, his first solo studio recording. In June, bandleader Harry James would sign Sinatra to a two-year contract. It was with the James band that Sinatra released his first commercial record “From the Bottom of My Heart” in July. In November 1939, he left James to replace Jack Leonard as the lead singer of the Tommy Dorsey band. He would leave the band in 1942 to pursue a solo career. His popularity would continue to grow following his departure from the band.
He would release his first album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, in 1946. Sinatra’s professional career had stalled by the early 1950s, and he turned to Las Vegas, where he became one of its best known performers as part of the Rat Pack. His career was reborn in 1953 with the success of From Here to Eternity and his subsequent Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He signed with Capitol Records and released several critically lauded albums, including In the Wee Small Hours (1955), Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!(1956), Come Fly with Me (1958), Only the Lonely (1958) and Nice ‘n’ Easy (1960).
Sinatra left Capitol in 1961 to start his own record label, Reprise Records, and released a string of successful albums. In 1965 he recorded the retrospective September of My Years, starred in the Emmy-winning television special Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, and scored hits with “Strangers in the Night” and “My Way”. After releasing Sinatra at the Sands, recorded at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Vegas with frequent collaborator Count Basie in early 1966, the following year he recorded one of his most famous collaborations with Tom Jobim, the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. It was followed by 1968’s collaboration with Duke Ellington.
Sinatra also had a highly successful career as a film actor. After winning an Academy Award for From Here to Eternity, he starred in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), and received critical acclaim for his performance in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). He appeared in various musicals such as On the Town (1949),Guys and Dolls (1955), High Society (1956), and Pal Joey (1957), and towards the end of his career he became associated with playing detectives, including the title character in Tony Rome (1967). On television, The Frank Sinatra Show began on ABC in 1950, and he continued to make appearances on television throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Sinatra retired for the first time in 1971, but came out of retirement two years later and recorded several albums and resumed performing at Caesars Palace. In 1980 he scored a Top 40 hit with “(Theme From) New York, New York”. Using his Las Vegas shows as a home base, he toured both within the United States and internationally until a short time before his death in 1998.
Sinatra had three children, Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina, all with his first wife, Nancy Barbato. They were married from 1939 to 1951. Sinatra would than marry Hollywood actress Ava Gardner from 1951 to 1957. Than marry Mia Farrow on July 19, 1966, a short marriage which ended with divorce in Mexico in August 1968. He lastly married Barbara Marx from 1976 until his death.
Sinatra died by his wife’s side at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on May 14, 1998, aged 82, after suffering a severe heart attack. His funeral was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, California, on May 20, 1998, with 400 mourners in attendance and thousands of fans outside. Sinatra was buried next to his parents at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.The words “The Best Is Yet to Come”, plus “Beloved Husband & Father” are imprinted on Sinatra’s grave marker.
He was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1983 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1985 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. Sinatra was also the recipient of eleven Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Trustees Award, Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.