When Frank Sinatra expired at age 82 in May 1998, many observers of the entertainment scene said his music would survive him. That may be true, but a more surprising development is that his status as a commercial “brand name” seems to be enduring as well.
In the final years of Mr. Sinatra’s 55-year performing career, which ended in December 1994 with his voice and health in tatters, substantial numbers of young fans turned up at his concerts around the world — prompted perhaps by the runaway success of his generally abysmal “Duets” and “Duets II” CDs of the early ‘90s.
Now those same young people seem to be buying reissues of material from Mr. Sinatra’s prime, which lasted from the early 1940s to the early ‘70s. Additionally, many older fans are snatching up vintage albums and concert performances now available on CDs and DVDs.
“Sinatra: The Classic Duets” (Hart Sharp Video, $14.95 VHS, $19.95 DVD) features segments from his black-and-white TV shows of the late ‘50s with such guest stars as Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore and others. This is a true gem and not to be confused with the recent “Duets” CDs, which presented a declining Mr. Sinatra performing electronically with current stars, to the general detriment of him and them.
The “Classic” DVD also offers half an hour of previously unreleased footage, commentary, stories from Mr. Sinatra’s family and a trivia track — material that undoubtedly will be of interest to Sinatra collectors.
Evidence abounds that Mr. Sinatra was not a very admirable person aside from his singing, although as critic Wilfred Sheed once wrote, “When he clears his pipes for business, he pays all his debts to society and Blackbeard’s, too.”
Mr. Sinatra as a celebrity is discussed by his longtime valet, George Jacobs, in “Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra” (Harper Entertainment, $24.95, 288 pages, illustrated). Mr. Jacobs’ most sensational revelations deal with how Mr. Sinatra reportedly procured women for President Kennedy. Apparently, enough people crave such salacious dish to make the book an instant, if probably short-lived, best seller on the Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble charts.
Additionally, Radio City Music Hall in New York will pay tribute to Mr. Sinatra from Oct. 10 through 19 with a multimedia show featuring vintage tape and film clips on big screens, plus live performances by jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli, a gospel choir and the Rockettes. The New York Repertory Ballet has done a Sinatra tribute that it hopes to take on the road and perform on television. Fans also can pay homage by visiting the Frank Sinatra Memorial Park in Hoboken, N.J., Mr. Sinatra’s hometown, which he reportedly hated.
Why the continuing interest in Mr. Sinatra? “He’s a part of our culture,” suggests Tina Sinatra, his younger daughter. “It isn’t that he’s been reinvented, it’s that the generations have passed him on.” New York TV host and comedy club owner Cary Hoffman says Mr. Sinatra’s enduring appeal is “a backlash against no melodies [in todays music]. Also, people want to have a romantic feeling about songs.”
Mr. Hoffman also says Mr. Sinatra’s popular ‘50s image — symbolized by the raincoat slung over his shoulder and his jaunty fedora in the 1957 film “Pal Joey” — appeals to today’s young people. A lot of twentysomethings, he says, like to “drink martinis, smoke and look cool.”
Of course, all this stuff should be and is secondary to Mr. Sinatra’s standing among the finest singers of American popular songs in the 20th century. For true fans, the “bad boy” persona, the divorces and affairs, and the many mediocre movies are unimportant.
As a commercial entity, Frank Sinatra is bigger than ever, and if that introduces new generations to his music, we can only applaud him once again.