Wow, did you ever
miss the mark in naming Elvis Presley "Entertainer of the Century"
[cover issue dated January 1 - 7, 2000]. Hands down, Frank
Sinatra is, unequivocally, THE ENTERTAINER OF THE CENTURY! He was
placed number 5 on your list in error.
subjective as these things are, let's put some objective measures on
the table. Specifically, the impact the entertainer had/has on: (1)
individual artistry; (2) music; (3) film; (4) dance; (5) his/her own
personal evolution; (6) the business of entertainment; (7) society;
and (8) legacy. With these categories we can summarily dismiss
entertainers TV Guide rated higher than Frank Sinatra:
Listed #2 -
single greatest impact is her sexuality. Otherwise, she only
amounted to a so-so actress with a decent singing voice. The very
emotionally troubled Monroe unfortunately never realized her
potential. Unlike Madonna, she was never able to parlay her
sexuality into a vibrant business machine. Again, unlike Madonna
("Evita") and even Betty Davis, Marilyn was not able to bolt out
of her sexuality and pursue meatier acting roles.
like his idol Bing Crosby, used his VOICE as the "foundation" for
his career then continued to evolve: Frank Sinatra's VOICE (more
than his idol Bing Crosby) became the icon for "crooning" and,
despite vocal problems his talent as a vocalist became
unparalleled - Sinatra brought true emotion and unique phrasing to
song interpretation - and he got better and better at it; unlike
his best pal Sammy Davis, Jr. who was generally acknowledged
during his life as "The World's Greatest Entertainer" because he
really could do-it-all, Frank Sinatra (like Bing Crosby) had to
learn how to dance; Frank Sinatra (like Bing Crosby) became an
Academy Award winning actor but, unlike Bing, Sinatra evolved as
an actor to take on meatier roles; like Marilyn, Frank Sinatra
also had personal problems and, unlike Marilyn and Elvis, Sinatra
nearly lost everything but came back stronger; as a counter-point
to rock and roll Frank Sinatra single-handedly ushered in the
1950's "swing" movement; he established and defined the idea of
the "concept" recording album; and Frank Sinatra was the first
major recording artist to pull away from a major recording label
and setup his own very successful music publishing and record
company decades before Master P, Puffy Combs and the Artist
(formerly known as Prince)!
Listed #3 - The
Beatles had a phenomenal impact when they landed in the U.S. back
in 1964. Elvis was essentially asleep-at-the-wheel wheel making
formula movie after movie when The Beatles came in and eclipsed
"The King of Rock and Roll".
But while Elvis
was making "B" movies, while The Beatles were new to achieving
chart position who won the Grammy for Best Solo Performance in
1965 and 1966? Who won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1965
and 1966? Yep, Francis Albert Sinatra. Recently, TV Guide and MTV
even picked Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as the best music video
ever. No, way! The best music video EVER is Frank Sinatra's "The
House I Live In" made in 1946 for which he received a Special
Academy Award. Way before it became fashionable to advocate civil
rights, even before he became pals with Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank
Sinatra made a serious musical statement for ethnic equality.
Let's not forget all throughout the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s
Black performers (Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington,
etc.) could not sleep in the same Las Vegas hotels where they
performed, but Frank Sinatra refused to perform unless Sammy
Davis, Jr. could sleep and perform in the same hotel. Frank
Sinatra was a catalyst for change. Frank Sinatra openly and
specifically acknowledged his admiration of Black performers like
Billie Holiday. To this day, Little Richard is still trying to be
recognized at the TRUE "King of Rock and Roll! Plus, unlike
Elvis, Bing, Monroe, Ball or even the "socially and politically
conscious" Beatles, in 1962 Frank Sinatra went on a world-wide
concert tour - paying his own expenses together with those of his
musicians and entourage - and raised over $1 million dollars for
children's charities throughout the world. In fact, during his
lifetime, Frank Sinatra, the man and performer, raised in excess
of one billion dollars for various charities worldwide. And the
Beatles? And Elvis? Frank Sinatra's philanthropic work is
legendary and continues after his death through the Frank Sinatra
Foundation. Clearly, TV Guide and those youngsters at MTV are
obviously short on memory.
Listed #4 -
Lucy had a
mediocre and short lived film career but a legendary TV career,
period. This is the extent of her legacy. Unlike Marilyn, Lucy's
near legendary savvy as a business woman propelled the creation of
her Desilu Studios which was the first home for the now legendary
"Star Trek" TV and film franchise. Yet, even before Lucy, Bing
Crosby established a template for success in film and television
("Hogan's Heroes," etc.) that is not only unmatched but sadly
resulted in his four son's from his first marriage never having to
work a day in their lives.
was not a comedian, Lucy was. However, Frank Sinatra also had
televison shows and specials from the 1950s through the 1990s.
Plus, Sinatra appeared in over sixty films which included nearly
every conceivable genré: comedy, action, war, adventure,
musicals, westerns, spy, drama, and period films. Lucy didn't.
Like Lucy, and Bing Crosby, owning his own film production company
gave Frank Sinatra a certain freedom and business savvy. Unlike
Lucy, Elvis and Bing, Frank Sinatra applied his artistry
diversely, as a performer and businessman. After acknowledging her
business savvy, Lucy's individual artistry is limited to her icon
status as a television comedian and, while significant, Carol
Burnett is clearly an heir apparent. As the "King of Rock and Roll"
Elvis' heir apparent is the self-titled "King of Pop" a.k.a.
Michael Jackson. There is no heir apparent to Sinatra.
Listed #1 -
now at Elvis. Frankly, Elvis' film career - not even in the league
of three time Academy Award nominated and one-time Best Actor Bing
Crosby - is easily dismissed. Let's acknowledge Elvis' musical
accomplishments, his recording success. According to German owned
BMG which owns Elvis' label RCA, it is estimated that Elvis has
sold over one billion records worldwide, more than anyone else in
the history of the record business. But when it's all said and
done, what single recording artist has been the most prolific,
produced more recordings and has more product available than
anyone else. Elvis? No. Sinatra? Yes. What recording artist has
consistently charted new material in the top 100 from the 1940s
through the 2000s? Elvis? No. Francis Albert Sinatra? Yes.
artist has a legendary list of composers and arrangers that reads
like a who's who's list (Irving Berlin, Cahn and Van Heusen,
Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Nelson
Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, etc.) of the best in recording
history? Elvis? No. Sinatra? Again, of course! In the 1950s when
record companies where putting pressure on recording artist to
sing trendy, mediocre or "safe" songs of the day who held his guns
and sang "his" music HIS WAY? Elvis? No. How can anyone ever
forget Elvis Presley singing (broadcast from the waist up) "Hound
Dog" to a actual "Hound Dog" on national television. In the early
1950s when confronted with his "dog" tune, "Mama Will Bark" Frank
Sinatra ultimately told both his arranger, Mitch Miller, and
Columbia, his record label, goodbye. At the time this was not a
wise business decision but Sinatra consistently held high
standards for the quality of his artistic product. Perceived as a
rebel by some, Sinatra preferred quality over crap. Apparently,
Elvis wasn't aware of or didn't learn from Sinatra's "dog"
history. Elvis had phenomenal potential but, after his initial
success in late 1950s, one can hardly call his musical output,
particularly his musical film work during the 1960s, as high
quality material. After his stint in the military, Elvis
essentially lost his "edge", started playing it "safe" and
ultimately, Elvis became his own "Golden Oldies Show" during the
1970s. Meanwhile, in 1973 at 58 years of age Sinatra came out of a
nearly three year self-imposed retirement and went on to achieve
even more chart success with "Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back" and later
with the legendary "New York, New York". Elvis died August 16,
1977 fat and drugged.
Sinatra went on and
pushed his musical envelope even further with "Trilogy: Past, Present
& Future" and hit again with Quincy Jones' arrangement of "Mack
The Knife" in 1984. Then, at 78 years of age, Frank Sinatra achieved
even more artistic success while also pioneering a breakthrough in
recording technology by successfully teaming with many contemporary
artists of the day (Luther Vandross, Bono, Kenny G, Julio Iglesias,
Barbra Streisand, etc.) in "Duets" from 1993 and "Duets II" in 1994.
Despite health problems Frank Sinatra continued performing in
concert, showing his strength and frailties, until a few years before
his death on May 14, 1998.
True, Elvis was
more than a mere flash in the pan, but how much more? Sadly, Elvis
screwed-up and didn't complete his career arch. As hinted above, it's
a terrible omission for TV Guide to overlook the career of Bing
Crosby who, in his initial heyday from 1928 through 1934 was truly
the very first major iconic multi-media star. For example, "Blue
Hawaii" was originally a hit for Bing, then Sinatra and then, oh
yeah, Elvis Presley! Crosby had an impact and, at the time, everyone
wanted to sound like him, except a really skinny kid from Hoboken,
New Jersey. So, TV Guide let's not put the cart before the horse.
It's nearly impossible to ignore "Der Bingles'" impact each Christmas
with the Irving Berlin penned masterpiece "White Christmas". Yet,
where Crosby excelled Sinatra's career arch obliterated Crosby's
achievements primarily through his individual artistry as a vocalist
and the tenacity of his convictions to do it his way.
Entertainer of the
Century? None other than, Frank Sinatra.