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The Chairman of the Board hits another quarter century

The Chairman of the Board turns 75

By JOHN WARD

"F RANK SINATRA," Stephen Holden of The New York Times once wrote, "virtually invented modern pop song phrasing." His voice, creamy smooth yet packing the punch of a kung fu master, is the standard by which all white American male singers, from Presley to Cylan to Roy Acuff to Axl Rose, have been measured. And so it is altogether fitting that we take an all too celebratory look at the life of this extraordinary man, one day shy of his 75th birthday.

Francis Albert Sinatra was born Dec. 12, 1915 in Hoboken, NJ. He began his singing career in the glee club at Damarest High School, but ended up dropping out to become a professional. At his mother's insistence, he gained employment as a copy boy at the Jersey Journal, later working his way up to sports writer. "He continued to sing in local clubs," relates Fred Bronson, "and with some friends formed a group, the Hoboken Four," which later won first prize on a local radio show.

Sinatra's big break came in June 1939, when bandleader Harry James discovered the young singer and offered him a job as vocalist with his band for a weekly salary of $100. He finally established himself two years later with Benny Goodman, after

a highly successful engagement at New York's Paramount Theater.

By now, Sinatra had reached the pantheon of teen idols (remember, this was some 45 years before Rick Astley). The "bobby-soxers" you may have heard your grandmother mention were actually an incarnation of the Frank Sinatra Fan Club. Upon signing with Columbia Records, Sinatra began stamping his name on music history with such gems as "Laura," "I'm Glad There Is You," and "I Concentrate on You." Still, nobody yet knew or understood the effect this skinny blue-eyed kid would have on the entire entertainment industry.

All this may have been too much for a 28-year-old -- the fame was undoubtedly something with which he was unprepared to cope. He left the mother of his three children (Nancy, Frank Jr. and Tina) and began an affair with glamorous actress Ava Gardner, whom he eventually married. After that union fizzled, he took up with the equally glamorous Lauren Bacall. For all this scandal, Frank was dropped from Columbia's roster, and blacklisted throughout the entertainment industry.

Sinatra was just too powerful to be kept down, though. He landed a role in the screen version of From Here to Eternity, for which he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1954. Oscar in hand, he was welcomed back into the business and quickly signed with Capitol Records.

At Capitol he recorded some of his best songs, including such classics as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Witchcraft," "Come Fly with Me," and "Here's That Rainy Day." He also formed life-long friendships with Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and, most importantly, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. The group was dubbed the "Rat Pack," on account of their boozin' and cruisin'. It was partly due to his friendship with Frank that Sammy was able to gain acceptance from a white audience.

By the onset of the 1960s, Frank had become the dominant force in American entertainment, bigger than Elvis, bigger than Brando, bigger even than Connie Francis. He had become a cultural icon.

Naturally, he made many powerful friends. Everyone knows that Sinatra personally won the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy, who ended up betraying him by sicking brother Bobby on Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, but that's a Kennedy for you. Even though Old Blue Eyes set him up with a classy broad like Judith Exner, he still gets stabbed in the back by those who don't appreciate his benevolent nature.

Of course, Frank had no choice but to defect to the Nixon camp in 1968, although we all remember how bitterly he wept when Bobby was assassinated. His newfound Republicanism allied him with Ronald Reagan, and in fact many of us believe that it was Frank Sinatra who ordered the invasion of Grenada, but we'll probably never know.

In 1961, Frank Sinatra started Reprise Records. The label eventually recorded such artists as Jimi Hendrix, the Kinks, and Neil Young. It was as the head of Reprise that Sinatra earned his coolest nickname, "the Chairman of the Board."

During the '60s he made some of his most commercially successful records, including such masterpieces as "That's Life," "My Way," and "Cycles." On July 2, 1966 "Strangers in the Night" nudged "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles out of the top spot on the Billboard pop chart, a position later matched by "Somethin' Stupid" (which displaced the Turtles' "Happy Together"). After a brief retirement in the early 1970s, Sinatra came back in full force and closed the decade with the "Theme from New York, New York," which continues to be a show stopper at his concerts.

So, as we reflect upon Francis Albert Sinatra's first three-quarters of a century, we find ourselves in awe at the figure he represents. His giving nature, whether it be in concert or in public, allows us to overlook the fact that he hated Elvis

and thinks Sin'ead O'Connor should be "kicked in the ass." But all of that is irrelevant. Through it all, he's stood tall.

As Dean Martin is fond of saying, "It's Frank's world; we're just lucky to be living in it." The record shows he took the blows and did it his way. Happy birthday, Frank.