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“I thought of quitting, baby, but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it.”

It was on this day in 1915 that Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey to Anthony Sinatra, a fireman, and his wife Natalie. For sixty years, in pubs and in palaces, he entertained the entire world: the finest popular vocalist ever to have lived. Just as it never really made sense to wonder whether Ronald Reagan was a conservative—what Reagan did, they said, defined what was conservative—so did Frank Sinatra, in hundreds of instances, decide what went into the American songbook under the title “standard”.

In the film clip above, two unlikely standards: Paul Anka’s “My Way” and “The Lady is a Tramp,” written by Rodgers and Hart for Babes In Arms. The former is a song Sinatra never particularly liked, but its swagger and style matched his, and because he sang it, so have hundreds of subsequents. The latter, a tinny showtune turned into a swinging masterpiece by the unparalleled duo of Nelson Riddle, conductor and arranger, and Frank Sinatra. Because Sinatra sang it, so have hundreds after him.

It was an error of history that there was no phonograph to capture the voice of Caterina Cavalieri, the most talented soprano in the heat of the classical period. We will never hear her. Yet those melodies with which we were born were composed for her. She was the toast of Vienna, in her time. Sinatra, of Manhattan, in his. The Chairman of the Board—who earns a nickname like that? Sinatra, unlike Cavalieri, is on record; he’s eternal. Yet when we listen to those clinically preserved recordings, there is never the sense that we are hearing history. The standards Sinatra sang, and those he made, sound as fresh as ever. It is because Frank Sinatra sang perfectly. And we do not allow ourselves to contemplate that perfection was in the past.

NOTE: The film above is a long one. I would recommend that you click on the player to start it, and then immediately click again to pause it. The video, meanwhile, will continue to load as indicated by the crawling gray bar. Start the video when the bar is twenty-five to fifty percent along.

SEE ALSO: “Ol’ Man River.”


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