Sinatra grew up during the Great Depression and at the age of eight began singing at a local New Jersey bar for tips. He was considered to be a problem child in his youth, and his misconduct led him to drop out of high school. Perhaps the one area of his life not lacking in direction was his passion for music and performing. By the mid 1930s, Sinatra had joined with the singing group the Hoboken Four and quickly won a national radio talent show that earned them a tour across America. Before long, Sinatra had caught the ear of legendary bandleader Tommy Dorsey, who asked him to join his band as lead singer. This proved to be a huge break for Sinatra, and his rise to stardom accelerated more quickly with the release of songs like “All or Nothing At All” and “I’ll Never Smile Again.” By the early 1940s, Sinatramania was in full swing and he was selling out venues and dominating the radio airwaves all across America.
In addition to his career as a recording artist, Sinatra also found a great deal of success on the silver screen. He co-starred with Gene Kelly in Take Me Out to the Ball Game and he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity. More memorable roles followed in Ocean’s 11 and The Manchurian Candidate. Sinatra’s acting and singing performances often went hand in hand, never more so than on his musical variety television program The Frank Sinatra Show.
Sinatra’s unmistakable voice was always his true calling and legacy. Even with his limitless charm and talent, however, Sinatra’s career was still marked by many risks. He resisted pressures to join the cultural shift towards rock and roll, sticking to his roots in big band jazz and ballads. He delved into more experimental projects with artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. Songs like “My Way” and “Theme from New York, New York” are the result of this resiliency. Sinatra’s efforts were rewarded with eleven Grammy Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement and the Grammy Legend Award.
Regardless of popular opinion, Frank Sinatra was always one to speak his mind, especially when he sensed injustice. His tough guy persona was validated by his overtly public dedication to the Civil Rights Movement. He performed at benefit shows for Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Rat Pack famously boycotted hotels and casinos refusing admittance to African American patrons. He forced public discourse about these civil rights issues and led the movement for change by example. Sinatra also supported a number of charitable causes in his later years, and his legacy lives on through his wife Barbara Sinatra’s Children’s Center, in support of victims of abuse and various community education initiatives.
Sinatra never forgot his roots, the “little guy” or the unsung heroes of America. He sang to everyone and for everyone. “I’ve been thinking about why you have to get famous to get an award for helping other people. If your name is John Doe, and you work night and day doing things for your helpless neighbors, what you get for your effort is tired. So, Mr. and Mrs. Doe, and all of you who give of yourselves to those who carry too big a burden to make it on their own, I want you to reach out and take your share of this award. Because if I have earned it, so too have you.”
Sinatra was lovingly known as The Voice, The Chairman of the Board, and Ol’ Blue Eyes. Together, these three nicknames exhibit his charm, work ethic, and natural talents that made Frank Sinatra one of the most iconic singers to ever live. And more, much more than this – he always did it his way.