Frank Sinatra made his recording debut with the Harry James band on July 13, 1939, singing “Melancholy Mood” and “From The Bottom of My Heart.” Bandleader Harry James had heard Sinatra sing on a radio broadcast from the Rustic Cabin roadside café and invited him to record with the band. Sinatra’s first radio broadcast was with “The Hoboken Four,” also known as “Frank Sinatra and the 3 Flashes,” on the Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour talent competition on September 8, 1935. The group won.
Tommy Dorsey saw Sinatra perform with James’ band and hired the young man away to perform with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. In 1942, Sinatra left Dorsey, making his solo debut in New York City on December 31, 1942.
From the outset of his solo career, Sinatra was a teenage heartthrob. He had an innate musicianship that allowed him to remain faithful to a song’s lyrics and feel, while deftly infusing it with his touch of jazz phrasing. “The Chairman of the Board” was almost as admired for his professionalism as he was for his undeniable talent.
The more than half-century span of Sinatra’s singing career afforded a broad range of audiences the opportunity to develop a great appreciation for his music. He appealed to audiences young and old and performed for presidents from both ends of the political spectrum including John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
Throughout Sinatra’s career, composers wrote songs specifically for him. Jule Styne collaborated with lyricist Sammy Cahn to write ballads for Sinatra. Styne wrote songs for the Sinatra vehicle Anchors Aweigh (1945). Sinatra recordings of three songs written by Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen won Oscars: “All the Way” (1957), “High Hopes” (1959), and “Call Me Irresponsible” (1963). Van Heusen composed over seventy songs for Sinatra.
Sinatra began to work in film in the 1940s, first in musicals and then as a dramatic actor. He won an Academy Award for his performance in From Here to Eternity (1953) and was nominated for an Oscar for his gripping portrayal of a heroin addict in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955). He appeared in more than thirty other films including Guys and Dolls (1955), High Society (1956), Pal Joey (1957), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Von Ryan’s Express (1965). In 1983 he was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. Sinatra continued to perform until February 1995. He died on May 14, 1998, in Los Angeles, California.
Click on the image of the city of Hollywood for a closer view of the town around the time of Frank Sinatra’s birth. To learn more about the development of the film industry, the cause of Hollywood’s boom, search Today in History on the term film; also search the motion picture collections to view information about films.
- The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Blog, Now See Hear! honored Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday in their December 10, 2015 post.
- The National Screening Room collection includes films that feature Frank Sinatra such as The House I Live In.
- The William P. Gottlieb Collection documents the jazz scene from 1938 to 1948, primarily in New York City and Washington, D.C. Search on the term Frank Sinatra to see images of the singer. Also, search on Axel Stordahl, Harry James, or Tommy Dorsey to see images of others with whom Sinatra worked.
- Duke University Libraries’ collection Historic American Sheet Music External is a remarkable and comprehensive collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century American sheet music. The selection affords a unique perspective of American history and culture through a variety of music types, including dance music, songs from vaudeville and musicals, and “Tin pan alley” songs.
- Search the Performing Arts Databases on the term Frank Sinatra to see more information about the singer and how his work helped define a musical era.
- Other sites of interest include The Kennedy Center: Frank Sinatra BiographyExternal and Biography.com: Frank Sinatra Biography (1915–98) External.