- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

One hundred years ago, Alexander Graham Bell made the first transcontinental telephone call, Babe Ruth made his pitching debut for the Boston Red Sox — and on Dec. 12, 1915, a pop singer by the name of Francis Albert Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey.

“I frankly cannot believe that if he were alive today, he would be 100 years old. It’s unbelievable,” says Frank Sinatra Jr., who is celebrating his father’s centennial with a series of tribute concerts, including one Wednesday at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia.

“Whereas we are doing the music that people would expect to hear, we are also including in the show something about his life. I introduce myself to the audience as a ‘musical biographer,’” says Mr. Sinatra, 71.

The centennial shows carry on a tradition begun after Sinatra died in 1998 at age 82. In addition to the Wolf Trap tribute’s musical component, an audio-visual display will bring “Ol’ Blue Eyes” back to life via a projection above the orchestra, the younger Sinatra says.

“We are not only doing the music we’re getting into his life now,” he says. “And that is, for me, the single most important thing about our new program.”

Francis Wayne Sinatra was born Jan. 10, 1944, in Jersey City, New Jersey, a stone’s throw from his father’s birthplace in Hoboken. Frank Sr. was already a star of stage and screen by then, selling out auditoriums with his effervescent baritone and outsize personality.

Mr. Sinatra grew up in the refracted light of his famous father and his Rat Pack contemporaries, a hellraising group of singer-actors comprising Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

“They were some of the most fun times I can remember, because those guys were certifiable,” he said. “And the stuff that they used to do to each other [was] just amazing.”

Mr. Sinatra had a front-row seat to the bacchanalia his father and his cronies reveled in during the 1950s and ‘60s, which included a steady stream of practical jokes.

He recalled an episode when Dean Martin was holed up in a Baltimore hospital with an ailment, and the doctors and staff wouldn’t allow him the use of a telephone or any “creature comforts.”

“He scribbled on a piece of paper a message, and he bribed some kid that worked in the hospital” to take a message to Western Union to send to Sinatra in California, asking if he might “bail out” Martin from the hospital, he said.

“So the next day,” Mr. Sinatra said, “at Dean’s room in the hospital, a big package arrived and it was an Army surplus parachute.”

He also called to mind a time when Sammy Davis Jr. had to have extensive orthodontic work. Upon receiving the news, Sinatra sent Davis a bag of peanut brittle.

“That’s the kind of stuff they did to each other,” Mr. Sinatra said.

But despite having access to some of the greatest artists of his father’s generation, the junior Sinatra said not one of them gave him advice or coaching in pursuing a show business career of his own.

“There was no involvement and there was no advice,” Mr. Sinatra said bluntly, including by his own father. “I was left alone to come to my own invention, for which I’m deeply grateful, by the way. And [my father] wanted me to come to whatever decisions I made, which I did.

“You would think there would have been advice, instruction, involvement, but there was not.”

Nearly all of his father’s contemporaries have passed on, save for Tony Bennett. Mr. Sinatra says he and Mr. Bennett, 89, run into one another sparingly and chat about old times.

Mr. Sinatra also heaps praise on Mr. Bennett’s frequent collaborator, Lady Gaga, as a contemporary force of nature in music. His favorite pick for a true talent of the moment goes to jazz singer Diana Krall.

For Wednesday’s performance, Mr. Sinatra will share stories about the “Chairman of the Board” as well as perform some of his best-known songs, such as “New York, New York.”

“He always had the nastiest habit of picking out these magnificent, magnificent pieces of music,” Mr. Sinatra said of his father’s ability to procure songs from the most prolific scribes of his day, like Nelson Riddle and Richard Rodgers. “Whether they became hits or not was really immaterial.”

For the longest time, Mr. Sinatra said he was extremely hesitant to perform the perennial “My Way,” without which no Sinatra show is complete. (He said he has “never been able to sit all the way down in that chair.”) However, on the eve of his father’s centennial, he felt the time was right to channel Frank Sr. through his own voice.

“I have to do ‘My Way’ because it’s part of the history of his music,” Mr. Sinatra said.

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