Several years ago I was talking with someone a few generations younger about Quincy Jones. They were recounting his illustrious career, noting that he even worked with Michael Jackson.
I then stated that Michael Jackson, as great as he was, was not the biggest star that Jones worked with. I could see a look of bewilderment cross his face, perhaps thinking, "Whose bigger than Michael Jackson?" Bewilderment quickly became utter disbelief when I said, "He (Jones) also worked with Sinatra!"
For legions of fans, which I include myself, my statement was a no-brainer. We have not had since, and most likely will not have again, someone on par with Francis Albert Sinatra aka "The Chairman of the Board."
December 12 marks the centennial of his birth. His metamorphosis from teen idol, the precursor to Elvis Presley, to movie star, to transforming Las Vegas, along with his fellow Rat Pack mates, into his personal playground, systematically created a persona where women wanted him, and men wanted to be him.
The latter sentiment was shared by even then Senator John F. Kennedy, who momentarily sought adjunct status into the Rat Pack fraternity, but soon realized with the insistence of his father, Joe Kennedy, that he couldn't run with Sinatra as president of the United States.
Sinatra played by his own rules and the senior Kennedy was appalled when Sinatra stood with his friend Sammy Davis Jr. when he married Swedish actress May Britt in 1960. Interracial marriage, 55 years ago, was a social taboo, banned in the majority of states. To have a star like Davis marry a white woman and to have that union publicly supported by someone with the stature of Sinatra could cost Kennedy votes, especially in the South. And Joe Kennedy would have none of it!
For me, it's not Sinatra's social stands, his tumultuous relationship with Ava Gardner, his Academy Award for his portrayal of Angelo Maggio in "From Here to Eternity", certainly not his love for Jack Daniels (I'm a single malt guy) nor the totality of his career that he remains in heavy rotation on my Spotify.
The vastness of Sinatra's career demands that it be broken into segments. And the segment that I embrace is his comeback after his career went into decline beginning in 1953. It is here where he fully embraced his self-definition as a "saloon singer."
He had lost the voice that made young women swoon while singing with bandleaders such as Harry James and Tommy Dorsey in the 1940s. He had to discover his "voice", his true voice, not tone but style. In doing so, he became Sinatra the man.
He not only recorded a plethora of hits during this time, he achieved something else that makes him still relevant 17 years after his death.
Like Billie Holiday, this Sinatra was "in" the song. Listen to "It Had to Be You" when Sinatra was with the Dorsey band and listen to the later version. The first version entertains, but the second version informs. With impeccable timing, he told a story, standing as the emotional proxy to capture musically what many were feeling but did not possess the words to express it.
During this period there were a number of singers with a more impressive vocal range, but few could match Sinatra's ability to place you in the location of the song. Each song was a vocal novel authored under the nom de plume Frank Sinatra.
Many of Sinatra's signature hits were originally recorded by others. But when Sinatra placed his indelible stamp on it, it became his, creating a symbiotic relationship between crooner and listener. In fact, regardless one's mood Sinatra has a song for it.
He could empathize with your pain and celebrate your triumphs, often times doing it in three minutes or less.
How many couples, some born long after Sinatra's apex, tout "Strangers in the Night" as their anthem? How many jilted lovers have been pacified by "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" or "Angel Eyes"?
It is this Sinatra that does not sing to you or at you, but rather for you.
So the 100th birthday of Sinatra warrants our commemoration, but we need not depict it as a final eulogy. For even in death, Sinatra continues to prove the best is yet to come