It was 100 years ago today, December 12, 1915, that Frank Sinatra came into this world.
There are those that are not fans of the Chairman of the Board but it is undeniable that he was one of the biggest stars, in a variety of media, that has ever lived. His contributions to music are obvious, but he also spent time acting in both film and on TV, produced, directed, owned a record company (Reprise) and even wrote a few songs.
But that music....He was a master of picking out classic, sophisticated songs and creating signature versions with his style and phrasing. More than any other singer, that style remains a cornerstone for crooners even today. All you have to do is listen to Sinatra followed by a Harry Connick, Jr. or Michael Buble to hear where they learned their phrasing.
Sinatra's music can be divided into three eras which coincide with his label agreements. He first sang and recorded with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey before signing with Columbia Records in 1943. Beginning in 1940, he became a regular resident of the top ten on the charts with songs like All or Nothing at All (1940 / #2), I'll Never Smile Again (1940 / #1), Dream (1945 / #5), Nancy (With the Smiling Face) (1945 / #10) and Five Minutes More (1946 / #1). While his years with the label established him as a true force in entertainment, the use of big band arrangements leave much of the music feeling rather dated.
Frank's music matured starting in 1953 when he signed with Capitol Records. It was here that he was credited with some of the first (and best) concept albums ever recorded with the sophisticated arrangements of his music by the likes of Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins and Billy May. Between 1953 and 1961, Sinatra recorded some of his most enduring songs including Young at Heart (1954 / #2), Learnin' the Blues (1955 / #1), Love and Marriage (1955 / #5), All the Way (1957 / #2), Witchcraft (1957 / #6) and Nice 'N' Easy (1960 / #60).
In 1961, Sinatra formed his own label, Reprise Records, and began releasing albums that moved him beyond the Great American Songbook into other styles of music (i.e., bossa nova on Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim) and attempts, sometimes a bit misguided, to connect with younger listeners by recording music by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Jim Croce. The experimentation peaked in 1980 with the concept album Trilogy: Past, Present and Future which was called, for its third disc, "an embarrassment" but it nonetheless was nominated for the Album of the Year at the Grammys and produced one of Frank's best known recordings, Theme From New York, New York.
Even with the experimentation, his time with Reprise produced such major hits as Strangers in the Night (1966 / #1), That's Life (1966 / #4), Somethin' Stupid (with daughter Nancy, 1967 / #1) and My Way (1969 / #27). The fact that Sinatra scored so many hits during the era of the Beatles proved that his music resonated far beyond the original screaming women for which he performed in the 40's.