Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sinatra, Craftsman He Started with Poetry, Then Made It Sing

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sinatra, Craftsman He Started with Poetry, Then Made It Sing

Article excerpt

In today's culture of hyperbole, born of desperate attempts to be noticed amid the Niagara of Internet and such, the label "genius" is affixed promiscuously to evanescent popular entertainers, fungible corporate CEOs and other perishable phenomena. But it almost fits the saloon singer - his preferred description of himself - who was born 100 years ago in Hoboken, N.J.

It is, however, more precise to say that Frank Sinatra should be celebrated for his craftsmanship. Of geniuses, we have a steady stream. Craftsmen are rarer and more useful because they are exemplary for anyone with a craft, be it surgery or carpentry. Mr. Sinatra was many things, some of them - libertine, bully, gangster groupie - regrettable. But he unquestionably was the greatest singer of American songs.

How should an artist's character and private life condition our appreciation of his or her art? How, say, should knowledge of T.S. Eliot's anti-Semitism condition one's admiration for his poetry? With Mr. Sinatra, tune out the public personality and listen to his music as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan and Oscar Peterson did. They all, according to culture critic Terry Teachout, named Mr. Sinatra their most admired singer.

For decades he was, Mr. Teachout says, "the fixed star in the crowded sky of American popular culture." It speaks well of Mr. Sinatra, and reveals the pride that sometimes made him volcanic, that he refused to adopt a less Italian name when ethnicity was problematic in the waning days of America's Anglo-Saxon ascendancy. Anthony Dominick Benedetto (Tony Bennett) and Dino Paul Crocetti (Dean Martin) adjusted. Mr. Sinatra was an unadjusted man.

In spite of the spectacular vulgarity of Sinatra's choices of friends and fun, he bequeathed to postwar America a sense of style, even male elegance. Never mind his loutish flunkies and violent bodyguards, his many awful movies and public brawls, his pimping for Camelot. And never mind that the comedian Shecky Greene was not altogether joking when he said: "Sinatra saved my life in 1967. …

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