‘Sinatra: An American Icon’ is a deep look into Ol’ Blue Eyes at Grammy Museum in L.A.
The Grammy Museum’s new exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth gives visitors a broad sense of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.
“Sinatra: An American Icon,” which has been organized by the Grammy Museum in cooperation with the Sinatra estate, opened earlier this year at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The show drew an estimated 80,000 visitors during its six-month run there.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier edition of this post listed the date Frank Sinatra died as May 14, 1988. He died May 14, 1998.
“That was great, but also a little intimidating,” said the museum’s manager of traveling exhibitions, Chris Morrison, during a walk-through. The collection occupies most of the facility’s second floor and extends into the ground floor lobby with with a wide range of artifacts on display.
Those include Sinatra’s own Dodgers jacket, which he wore to sing the national anthem at opening day of the team’s 1977 season, as well as the fur-lined golf bag containing his set of clubs, a favorite pair of blue cotton pajamas and one of his favorite plaid fedoras.
Mementos from fans are neatly displayed, including those from the fan club by the name of Bobbie Socks, at the Frank Sinatra exhibition at Grammy Museum in downtown L.A.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
In the short film “The House I Live In,” Frank Sinatra lines up against racial oppression and religious intolerance. He won a special Oscar for the movie.
This is a Frank Sinatra art studio, with several of his paintings. In the photo at left, he teaches his granddaughter, AJ, how to paint.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
A glimpse at just a few of the many awards earned by Frank Sinatra.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Photos from different times in Frank Sinatra’s life glow from within.
A photograph from 1945 of Frank Sinatra sits next to a photograph of his first wife, Nancy.
Billie Holiday’s fox stole sits pretty along with a black-and-white photo of the female singer.
Here we see the T-shirts worn by Frank Sinatra’s grandchildren.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
This record was presented to daughter Nancy Sinatra to commemorate the sale of more than 1 million copies of the Reprise Record’s pop single record “Something Stupid,” which she sang with her father.
An exhibit of the Rustic Cabin, left, where Frank Sinatra worked as a waiter and would sometimes sing. It is the place where musician Harry James heard young Sinatra sing in July 1939.
In one case is the hat and pipe of Frank Sinatra’s pal Bing Crosby along with a metal acetate record.
A trio of abums from Frank Sinatra’s Capitol Records days line the wall.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
A timeline across a full wall on the second floor runs the gamut from his birth in Hoboken, N.J., on Dec. 12, 1915, up to his death at 82 from a heart attack on May 14, 1998.
His impact on popular music remains imposing, as will be noted in a tribute concert scheduled for Dec. 2 with plans to be aired as a CBS-TV special on Dec. 6. The show will feature performances and testimonials from a broad swath of admirers including Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, Alicia Keys, Carrie Underwood, John Legend, Adam Levine, Usher and others.
Unrelated to the Grammy Museum exhibition, Sony Legacy Recordings is also issuing a new four-CD set, “Frank Sinatra: A Voice on Air (1935-1955),” containing more than 100 tracks, the vast majority previously unreleased from his decades as a radio entertainer.
The exhibition is a multimedia exploration of how Sinatra emerged as perhaps the first “teen idol” in American pop culture, drawing young fans who screamed and swooned during his early performances in the late 1930s and early ‘40s.
Sinatra got his early break appearing on an early antecedent to those programs, radio’s “Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour.” The scrawny singer with the piercing blue eyes began drawing attention at New York’s Paramount Theatre in performances with clarinetist Benny Goodman’s orchestra. He then became an even bigger star after joining trombonist Tommy Dorsey’s band.
Sinatra was still with the Dorsey orchestra when that group came west in 1942 to inaugurate one of the West Coast’s big new ballrooms, the Hollywood Palladium, a moment that is one of the many underscored in the Grammy Museum show.
As much as Sinatra is widely viewed as an East Coast icon, cemented with his signature version of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s theme for the 1977 film “New York, New York,” Sinatra spent much his life in Southern California once he started making movies in the 1940s.
Frank Sinatra is a singer who comes along once in a lifetime, but why did he have to come in mine?
Among the many photos in the show is a shot of the famous sign over the doorbell of his home in Beverly Hills, which warned potential visitors: “If you haven’t been invited, you better have a damn good reason for ringing this bell!”
“We asked everyone if they knew where that sign went, but we couldn’t locate it,” Morrison said, so a photograph is there instead.
A replica of Capitol Studios’ fabled Studio A in Hollywood, where Sinatra made many of his greatest recordings for Capitol Records, includes a mixing board, a stool and a vintage microphone. The set includes a music stand with sheet music from one of the songs from those sessions -- Alan Bergman, Marilyn Keith and Lew Spence’s “Nice N Easy.”
Interactive elements include a digital jukebox where visitors can listen to recordings as early as his 1939 rendition of “All or Nothing At All” with trumpeter Harry James’ band up to 1984’s “L.A. Is My Lady.” Fans also can sing along with the Chairman of the Board on “That’s Life” in a recording booth or remix his 1984 recording of “Teach Me Tonight” to experience how different emphasis on the various tracks impacts the effect of the song.
The show traces the influence of black and white entertainers on Sinatra’s approach to singing — in particular Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby.
“When I started singing in the mid-1930s everybody was trying to copy the Crosby style -- the casual kind of raspy sound in the throat,” Sinatra told an interviewer in 1965. “Bing was on top, and a bunch of us ... were trying to break in. It occurred to me that maybe the world didn’t need another Crosby. I decided to experiment a little and come up with something different.”
It also highlights his friendships with politicians, including President John F. Kennedy and younger brother Robert F. Kennedy, but largely ignores darker aspects of his life such as his reputed ties with organized crime figures.
Several of his nine Grammy awards are on display, and museum officials have incorporated color home movies taken at his residence in Palm Springs. Banners with quotes from and about Sinatra hang over the escalators.
“Frank Sinatra is a singer who comes along once in a lifetime,” Bing Crosby once said of his young acolyte, “but why did he have to come in mine?”
The exhibition is scheduled to run through Feb. 15.
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