[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Friday, May 15.]
Frank Sinatra, one of the 20th century's most popular singers and the
man whose monumental fame presaged that of rock 'n' rollers Elvis Presley,
the Beatles and Michael Jackson, died Thursday in Los Angeles from a heart
attack. He was 82.
Although Sinatra was critical of rock 'n' roll for decades, he was
respected by scores of rock musicians. In 1994, U2 singer Bono explained
rock's fascination with the singer as he presented Sinatra with a Lifetime
Achievement Grammy Award. "Rock 'n' roll people love Frank Sinatra because
Frank has got what we want: swagger and attitude," Bono said. (Click here for Bono's speech.)
"Frank Sinatra was the 20th century," Bono said Friday (May 15) in a prepared
statement. "He was modern, he was complex, he had swing and he had
attitude. He was the boss, but he was always Frank Sinatra. We won't see
his like again. He was the big bang of pop ... the man invented pop music."
Sinatra, known fondly as "Ol' Blue Eyes" and the "Chairman of the Board,"
was pronounced dead in the emergency room of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
just before 11 p.m. PDT. Rumors of ill health had swirled around the
singer since he suffered a previous heart attack in January 1997.
During a 1995 80th birthday tribute to Sinatra, rock songwriter Bruce
Springsteen dubbed him "Patron Saint of New Jersey" and attested to his
cross-generational popularity by saying, "You sang out our soul."
Francis Albert Sinatra was born Dec. 12, 1915, in Hoboken, N.J. A 1933
performance by crooner Bing Crosby was said to have inspired his own
singing career, and by 1939, Sinatra was performing with Harry James'
orchestra. He soon joined trombonist Tommy Dorsey's ensemble, and what
would become one of the most famous careers in American music history took
The man who was publicly friends with Presidents Kennedy and Reagan and who
was privately reputed to have close ties to mobsters was also
well-regarded as an actor.
But Sinatra will forever be remembered as a unique voice, a singer who
wrested control over lyrics the way a jazz musician interprets a melody.
On 1950s hits such as "I've Got You Under My Skin" (RealAudio excerpt), "The Lady Is A Tramp"
and "Witchcraft," Sinatra imparted the emotion of the songs' lyrics with
expert precision, throwing his weight behind particular words, sometimes
jumping in front of the beat, sometimes waiting behind it.
In 1943, the Chairman lit out for a solo career, in the process setting the
hearts of millions of bobby-soxers afire. Over the next five decades, he
recorded more than 200 albums, working with such talents as Nelson Riddle,
Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. He also was known as the
ringleader of Hollywood's "Rat Pack," which included singing partners Sammy
Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. No matter how the tides of culture turned,
Sinatra maintained his commitment to traditional popular song, and he was
beloved by his legions of fans for doing so.
While the most famous era of his career spanned the 1940s and '50s, Sinatra
recorded some of his most well-known numbers in later years. "My Way" --
the signature tune that spoke to Sinatra's revered and sometimes feared
determination -- was recorded in 1969. In the 1980s, "Theme from New York,
New York" became Sinatra's trademark salute to his adopted hometown.
Sinatra returned to the spotlight in 1993 with the first of two
Duets albums. He did not work directly with his partners
-- including Bono ("I've Got You Under My Skin") and Aretha Franklin ("What
Now My Love") -- for the album (their parts were recorded without Sinatra present); the album debuted at #2 on Billboard's
200 albums chart and quickly went platinum. The disc's 1994 sequel
collection featured songs with the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, Stevie
Wonder and Willie Nelson and earned a Grammy for Traditional Pop Vocal
Over the years, music proved to be just one of Sinatra's talents. When his
singing career took a downturn in the early '50s, he vaulted himself back
to acclaim with his Oscar-winning performance in "From Here To Eternity"
(1953). Although Sinatra made several musicals (including "Anchors Aweigh"
in 1945 and "High Society" in 1956), he was also well-regarded as a serious
dramatic actor. He earned another Oscar nomination in 1955 for "The Man With
The Golden Arm" and received additional accolades for his role in "The
Manchurian Candidate" (1962).
In 1961, Sinatra became one of the first popular singers to found his own
record label, Reprise. While he sold his controlling share in the venture
two years later, he recorded numerous albums for the imprint, which
continues to operate today with such artists as Neil Young, Chris Isaak and Green Day.
At the same 80th birthday celebration where Springsteen honored Sinatra
with his rendition of the Chairman's "Angel Eyes," Bob Dylan also saluted
Ol' Blue Eyes with "Restless Farewell," an original song with an air
similar to "My Way," which Sinatra had never performed live since recording it
more than 30 years before.
"The dirt of gossip blows into my face, and the dust of rumors covers me,"
Dylan sang. "But if the arrow is straight and the point is slick, it can
pierce through dust no matter how thick / So I'll make my stand and remain
as I am, and bid farewell and not give a damn."