1915-1998 the Voice as an Entertainer and a Public Figure, Frank Sinatra Was in the Spotlight for 60 Years. His Great Contribution Was Made with a Microphone, as He Sang His Way to the Top of the Heap in Classic American Popular Song

Article excerpt

"Make it one for my baby -- and one more for the road."

You don't just fit the tune around those words when you hear

them in your head -- you hit the replay button that conjures

Sinatra's voice to hold them, to shape them into the sad,

cynical song of love gone bad, love gone by that was one of his

signatures.

Most singers have a signature song.

Sinatra, 82 when he died Thursday in Los Angeles of a heart

attack, had a bundle of signature songs. Strangers in the Night,

My Way, Come Fly with Me And so many more.

No surprise. Sinatra sang for 60 years, and in those decades,

he defined classical American popular music -- not rock, not

jazz, but the songs of the Gershwins, of Cole Porter, of Harold

Arlen and Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, the music of

Broadway and Hollywood -- and he became a classic performer.

Toward the end of his career, when the voice was no longer The

Voice, the ear was still all that it had ever been and his

concerts were almost recitals, standard repertory, phrases

modified, notes shaved here and there to fit the instrument. An

old master.

Sure, maybe he should have quit before he did, but singing was

what Sinatra did and he didn't want to quit. So, he kept

singing. His way. And we kept going to hear him because you

could always hear in his songs, see in the man, not only the way

he sang at the last, but the way he sang them at the beginning.

A retrospective issued on the singer's 80th birthday last year,

Frank Sinatra: The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings included

450 songs on 20 CDs, suggested retail price $499. And, that's by

no means the complete Sinatra songbook -- the greatest years,

the landmark recordings, had to be the Capitol albums, done in

the '50s. Only the Lonely, Songs for Swingin' Lovers.

If you want to pay some memorial tribute to Sinatra, put a

couple of those albums on the machine tonight and listen to what

that man could do. He could break your heart. And mend it. And

make you grin at the sheer genius of the way he made music. It

was one of the wonders of the world.

Ten years ago, when we were summing up Sinatra on the occasion

of his 70th birthday, New York Times music critic John Rockwell

declared that by any reasonable criterion, Sinatra was the

greatest singer in the history of American popular music.

It's true.

Is there another candidate?

The last time Sinatra performed in Jacksonville was April 26,

1992.

He shared the stage with Shirley MacLaine and they put on a

very good show -- not a great show -- for 8,000 or so fans in

the Coliseum. Sinatra stumbled musically a couple of times, had

TV monitors to run the lyrics for him, took Frank Sinatra Jr.,

who was conducting the orchestra, unnecessarily to task,

basically because he could, for being FSJr and conducting the

orchestra.

But, when he snapped his fingers, tossed some imaginary dice in

the air and hit Luck Be a Lady Tonight head on, you heard

Sinatra the way you came to hear him.

But, the song you really came to hear was the song he waited

longest to sing.

My Way.

The Sinatra national anthem, he called it.

Oh, Elvis used to sing that song, but Elvis wasn't convincing.

Elvis died at 42 -- he didn't get away with doing it his way.

But, Sinatra got away with it, saw it through without

exemption.

And, we loved that about him, didn't we?

So, we knew, or thought we knew, he was a tough guy, maybe even

a scary guy. …