I made sure before summer’s end to get to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and its Sinatra: An American Icon exhibit. The Voice would have been 100 this coming December. What makes the show so worthwhile is that virtually all of the items are from the Sinatra family’s personal collection. The curators did a good job covering the depth and breadth of the singer’s life. Sinatra’s parents were fortunate to get out of the Old Country when they did. His father was from Sicily and his mother from Genoa. Both came to the United States as part of the Great Migration in the years prior to the Great War. They married in 1913, a year before the war began and their only child was born in December 1915, seven months after Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. The legacy of the Great War on early immigrants is a woefully understudied topic. What is certain is that Sinatra was a uniquely American singer. No one made the Great American Songbook more his own.
There is much to see in the show but my favorite exhibit was this re-creation of the Sinatra’s living room with its photo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt displayed so prominently. His music aside, Sinatra’s life in its key elements is representative of twentieth century American life. Sinatra turned eighteen the year FDR entered the White House. A decade later he wanted to name his only son after Roosevelt but that did not happen. Instead of Franklin Sinatra, the infant became Francis Jr.
Sinatra and Roosevelt did not know each other too well, but to the extent that they had a relationship it was an awkward one. Sinatra campaigned for FDR in 1944, performing fundraisers and even speaking on the incumbent’s behalf at Carnegie Hall. He must have had slightly mixed feelings. Roosevelt had once condescended to Sinatra in one of their few personal encounters, gently tweaking the swarthy crooner for both ethnicity and the zeal of his bobby-soxer following. Sinatra uncharacteristically held his tongue. Despite this episode Sinatra always maintained his admiration for FDR even after he left the Northeast for the Sunbelt and changed parties in late 60s and early 70s, just as many other Americans were doing at the same time.
The exhibit is free and runs though this Friday, September 4, if you’d like to catch it in its final week.
Carol Zurlo said:
I so enjoyed your article this morning.
Keith Muchowski said:
I’m glad you enjoyed it. They did a great job on the exhibit.
I just got back from Governors Island and have Sinatra on now.
My mother was one of the bobby soxers swooning for the Voice at the Paramount and spent the rest of her life in love with the Rat Pack. Sinatra records were always playing in our house as I grew up. It was the soundtrack to my parents alcoholism.
But I can’t get past the misogyny of the Rat Pack and then Sinatra (to me) betrayed all of his political ideals and became a Republican. How do you live with FDR watching down on you while you campaign for Ronald Reagan (and, yes, I understand their Old Hollywood connection but still).
So, I have lots of bad connotations to that music. And not too long ago I was reading something by some child of a raging alcoholic. The author was in his 30s and he said whenever his Dad came home and put on Jackson Browne and James Taylor, he knew he was in for a rough ride and he still has a PTSD associated with those artists. That drew me up short because I have the PTSD when Sinatra comes on. Being of his father’s generation, I’ve always thought Browne and Taylor as mellow and calming.
I haven’t even addressed the whole Mia Farrow marriage.
Interestingly, my (alcoholic) brother has totally embraced Sinatra. He acts like I’m a crazy person because I can’t listen to Sinatra; I’m shocked that he can.
Sorry, this seems really jumbled. Sunday morning thoughts.
How are you?
Keith Muchowski said:
Thanks for sharing. Music can indeed bring one back to places one may or may not want to recall. I understand why he would bring about negative connotations for you.
Yes, the misogyny etc is cringe inducing. As when it comes to many other artists, one must overlook the often unseemly personal life.
The Mia Farrow thing is a strange one too. It’s interesting that even today she says he was the love of her life. They stayed close through the end of his life. Her son Ronan, who was born in 1987, may well be Frank’s child. He attended Sinatra’s funeral in 1998 and is today quite close to Frank’s daughters.
The political shift was not unusual. The New Deal coalition collapsed in the late 60s and early 70s and he was part of that shift. Oddly enough he was on Governors Island with Reagan as part of the Statue of Liberty re-opening in 1986.