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Sunday Morning Sinatra - One For My Baby

When, in “That’s Life,” Frank Sinatra sings of having been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king, well, he was giving an autobiography. Born in New Jersey a pauper, he died in California a king. In between, he led a strenuous life. In the early days, it was never a connection that got Sinatra his next gig—never a favor. It was hard work. It comes through in the music, of course. In Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns,” there are the words, “Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer? Losing my timing this late in my career.” Those several bars are difficult, wonderfully difficult, to listen to. The gravel in Sinatra’s voice, stocked up over a half century, pocks the music in the way that whole lives, wholly lived, are pocked. And Sondheim’s words, about a marriage that’s withered, bloom to reality.

The son of a fireman, Sinatra was a friend of presidents. He was a dedicated Democrat for a spell, until the party left him behind in the early seventies. He listed Ronald Reagan as a character witness when in 1980 he applied for a Nevada gaming license. He was condemned by a United Nations committee—an honor indeed—for a series of 1981 concerts in South Africa, which injected millions into the local economy. When it came to light that John F. Kennedy’s assassin had viewed Suddenly, a film in which Sinatra starred as a gangster, just days before murdering the president for whom Sinatra had once organized an entire gala, he asked to have the film pulled from distribution.

In the summer of 1990, Sinead O’Connor was scheduled to perform at the Garden State Arts Center. The venue’s custom was to play the national anthem as an introduction to each performance. O’Connor, claiming she was unaware of the policy, refused to go on. “Hypocritical and racist,” she called it. Sinatra gave a concert the next evening. Said he wished he “could kick her in the ass.”

Just a few snapshots from a life invested with verve. View Frank Sinatra at a distance, though, and the political friction fades to mist, revealing a man of such leveling force that he could reduce the soaring White House and its luminous occupants, putting them on the same firm earth as the telephone operators and bellhops. In fact, he did just that. On April 17, 1973, Frank Sinatra gave a concert at the White House, at the invitation of President Nixon. Giulio Andreotti, the Italian prime minister, was the guest of honor, along with his wife. The President introduced Frank Sinatra this way:

Dear Mrs and Mr Andreotti, and all of our distinguished guests! When the Prime Minister of Italy indicated that he could come to the United States on this state visit, we privately thought, what would be the entertainment that would be most appropiate? We didn’t really have to go far forward once we had thought about it because I read the White House history and I found that in 1803, Mr Prime Minister, had traveled in Italy. He thought that the music in the United States was rather primitive at that time, and so he recruited musicians from Italy for the Marine Band of the United States, which became the President’s own band, and here it is here tonight! (applause).

And so, since that time, from 1803 until the present time, over a 150 years, the Marine Band, the President’s own as its called, the majority of its musicians have been of Italian background, and 8 out of its 19 leaders have been of Italian background. But we thought we should not stop there, because of our distinguished guests, we thought we’d go a step further! And so, we thought of: What could be the very best? And the name that occurred to me was of a man who I understand has never learned to read a note of music. And yet, in terms of entertainment, by all of his colleagues, he’s considered to be what the Washington Monument is to Washington — he’s the top! Ladies and Gentlemen, this house is honored to have a man who’s parents were born in Italy, who from humble beginnings went to the very top in entertainment: Frank Sinatra!

This house—the White House—was honored to have Frank Sinatra perform. Old Blue Eyes returned the favor, honoring the salon—stuffed with finery, stuffed with the Washington intelligentsia, and presided over by the Prime Minister and the President—by turning it into a saloon. Every guy’s been dumped, Sinatra figured. So he summoned his boys—Bill Miller trickling over the same old piano and Nelson Riddle leading the Marine Band—and brought the house down. Here’s “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).”

More Sunday Morning Sinatra here.

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