Frank Sinatra: Music, Songs & Movies

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

With a career spanning over fifty years, there was not much Frank Sinatra couldn't do to entertain an audience. In this lesson, you'll explore the songs and movies of the legendary performer.

A Man and His Music

You've undoubtedly heard songs by Frank Sinatra like ''New York, New York,'' but did you know he acted in more than fifty movies? Show business lures many would-be stars, but few make it as big as this multi-talented singer and actor!

Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), born in Hoboken, New Jersey, was a multi-talented singer, actor, and all-around performer. In a career that spanned more than fifty years and several generations, he became a legend of American music.

Sinatra first became popular as a crooner during the 1930s, in the Swing and Big Band era. The term crooner means a male singer who specializes in sentimental songs, typically in a soft or low voice. This certainly applied to Sinatra, who had his first number one hit, ''I'll Never Smile Again,'' in 1940 when he was performing with the Tommy Dorsey Band.

Frank Sinatra in a radio interview during World War II
Sinatra in radio interview during World War II

Decades of Hit Songs

By 1942, Sinatra had gone out on his own as a solo artist. He sang songs from the Great American Songbook, a term given to a group of important jazz and American classic songs from the first half of the 20th century. These classics were written by composers like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin. One of Sinatra's many hits in 1942 was ''Night and Day.'' In 1943, he had three top ten hits, including ''People Will Say We're In Love'' from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma. His growing popularity resulted in young women mobbing him at performances -- he was the teen heartthrob of his day! He gained the nickname ''The Sultan of Swoon'' for his smooth baritone voice that could convey a whole host of emotions.

Frank Sinatra, circa 1947
Frank Sinatra in 1947

In the 1950s, after a temporary career lull, Sinatra reinvented himself. Working with composer and arranger Nelson Riddle, he had a series of hits with more lush orchestration and the addition of jazz elements. Sinatra's hits in the 1950s included ''I Get a Kick Out of You'' (1953), ''Young at Heart'' (1953), and ''Love and Marriage'' (1956). That string of hits continued into the 1960s with sentimental songs like ''It Was a Very Good Year'' (1965), ''Strangers in the Night'' (1966), and the very declarative statement of individualism, ''My Way'' (1969). The latter became one of Sinatra's anthems in his stage shows.

A song Sinatra performed early in his career, ''One More for My Baby (And One More For the Road),'' became another anthem in later years. He developed it into a staple in his live shows as a lonely saloon song with loose style and a melancholy edge.

And then there's ''New York, New York.'' It's actually the theme song for a 1977 movie of the same name, and Liza Minelli sang it in the film. In 1979, Sinatra recorded it for an album and it became another huge hit, as well as an unofficial theme song for its namesake city. Not many remember the film, but almost everyone knows the song!

Movies

As if a successful singing career wasn't enough, Sinatra also acted in more than fifty movies. Many were musicals, but he also excelled in dramatic roles. One of his earliest successes was The House I Live In (1945), in which he starred and also sang the theme song. The movie was a ten-minute short that won a special Academy Award for fighting racism and anti-Semitism following World War II. Sinatra also starred in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On the Town (1949), two of several movies he did with dancer Gene Kelly. The latter was one of the first movies filmed on location in New York City.

Anchors Aweigh promotional photo, ca. 1945
Sinatra in Anchors Away

But the film that vaulted him to greater respect as an actor was From Here to Eternity (1953). Sinatra's non-singing dramatic role won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It marked the beginning of a comeback following his slump in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

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