On Frank Sinatra

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I have been a Frank Sinatra fan since before I can remember. My parents told the story of me during my terrible twos: I would be screaming about something that had gone wrong in my little girl toddler world, but when Frank Sinatra came on the radio singing “Three Coins in a Fountain”, I would stop screaming, listen to him sing the song, and when it was over, I would continue screaming.
Frank SinatraGenius music and musicians populate the soundtrack of my life. Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Motown, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Weather Report, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Patty LaBelle, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Michael Jackson, Sting, Al Jarreau, and more. I learned classical music from Leonard Bernstein’s children’s concerts and from my piano teachers in East St. Louis, Illinois. I was, and I am still proud of African-American opera singers such as Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Paul Robeson, William Warfield, and the young opera singers that prove the saying – strong women and men keep coming. I loved the three tenors – Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. I thrilled at the singing of the tree mo’ tenors – Thomas Young, Roderick Dixon, and Victor Trent Cook. Every year I ride around with that year’s version of the WOW Gospel collection playing in my car.
Still, Frank Sinatra was and remains one of my favorite singers, always somewhere in the background waiting with a voice that makes me pause a moment, put my troubles on hold, and just listen. There is a mystery to great art and to great artists. A great singer may not have the most astonishing voice, or the most pure technique, yet, they have a mysterious X factor that touches our humanity in an indescribable, inexplicable way. Frank Sinatra is such an artist.
Sinatra sings about love. Love, the part of our humanity that is also our divinity. God is Divine Love that never goes away. When we love we are at once our weakest and our strongest self. We will love the beloved as long as we exist. Love gives us the capacity to reach beyond ourselves and want to give ourselves to another. It is a care for the beloved that is rational, irrational, and transrational at various moments in the relationship. Love has the capacity to take us to our highest heights of joy and to our lowest lows of despair and longing and loneliness when it goes wrong or when it leaves or when our beloved dies. So, to take even one step in love’s direction is an act of incredible courage and foolishness. Love insists, and its beckoning is often an irresistible command. We do fall in love, a step off a precipice into the unknown.
The mystery of loving another more than ourselves, of loving life itself defies description. Even so, there are artists that can give love expression in music and words, and then there are singers who breathe the breath of life into the music and words and what we are feeling lives in a way that helps us to know that we are not alone in the exhilaration, the despair and everything in between that comes with loving. We listen to the song and the singer and our common humanity nods in knowing affirmation. Somebody else knows how we feel.
Francis Albert Sinatra was born December 12, 1915, and he left this earth on May 14, 1998. He lived a life of extreme highs and lows. He knew what it meant to be a teen idol, where thousands of young girls screamed his name, to be riding high, and he knew what it meant to be broke and alone where very few people wanted to be around him. He knew family life and the life of a womanizer. He did fall in love and lost himself in Ava Gardner. She broke his heart into a thousand pieces. When he sings of love, we know he sings out of his own experience.
However, Sinatra was not only an entertainer, but he was also a social activist. He stood up for African-American entertainers during the Jim Crow era, insisting that they be treated with dignity and that they be allowed to live in the hotels where they entertained. He sang for soldiers in war zones and for prisoners. He was a good friend. When Billie Holiday was in the hospital dying, he visited her. After her death, he grieved alone for two days. In 1945, he made a short movie – “The House I Live In’ – where he lectures a group of boys about not hating and fighting another boy because of his religion. Sinatra helped them to understand that loving one’s country means loving the people in the country. This is a lesson that we are still learning. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woZVlroHqPU)
Happy Birthday Mr. Sinatra. Your voice still helps us to touch and to know our most human and our most divine selves. I am still screaming about what is wrong in this world – war, gun violence, cowardice among elected officials, demagoguery, and just plain stupidity, even and especially my own. Yet, sometimes I still pause to listen to your music before I go back to my screaming.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”