I try to avoid tribute performances because they usually don’t quite get the essence of the original music. When a good friend’s church was putting on a Frank Sinatra one as a fundraiser, however, I told myself it was for a good cause and, besides, Ol’ Blue Eyes had been gone for over 20 years.
Sinatra was a son of Italian immigrants, like my parents and many of that generation, and crooned his way into clubs, movies and hearts at a time when loved ones were gone to war. Sinatra spent much of his time as a teenager at his parents’ tavern in Hoboken, working on his homework and occasionally singing a song on top of the player piano for spare change.
His career took off when first Harry James and then Tommy Dorsey recognized his raw talent and booked him into the Palmer House in Chicago and the Coronado Theatre in Rockford where he opened the show with “Stardust.”
“You could almost feel the excitement coming out of the crowds when the kid stood up to sing. Remember, he was no matinee idol. He was just a skinny kid with big ears…” Dorsey recalled.
His appeal to “bobby soxers” during the war was officially known as “Sinatramania” and Sinatra knew why.” It was the war years and there was a great loneliness” and “I was the boy in every corner drugstore, the boy who’d gone off drafted to the war.”
His movie career exploded with his academy award win for From Here to Eternity, but he continued to produce albums, later with Nelson Riddle, and established himself in Vegas.
As Tony Sands crooned to us, images of the skinny kid, the movie soldier, the Vegas playboy and the entertainer into his late seventies scrolled past us on the big screen. The night after Sinatra’s death, the lights on the Empire State Building in New York City were turned blue, the lights at the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor, and the casinos stopped spinning for one minute.
We sipped our wine and beer, snacked on Italian cookies baked by one of the church members and smiled at all the familiar songs – My Funny Valentine, My Kind of Town, New York, New York and of course, My Way. There were two empty seats about three rows in front of me and in my mind, I knew my parents were sitting there enjoying the show with me.
Thank you, Laurie, Tony and St. Raphael’s, for a delightfully nostalgic evening!