Music & Memorabilia at Library for Performing Arts NYC
By Sally Deering
Hoboken’s ‘Native Son’ Frank Sinatra grew up in a town quite different from what it is today. There were no Starbucks or even PATH trains when Sinatra was born in 1915. And when he was old enough, the ‘skinny blue-eyed kid’ began singing in his parents’ saloon. That’s where Sinatra learned his trade, crooning to locals at Marty O’Brien’s saloon.
That’s where the Frank Sinatra legend begins at the exhibit SINATRA: AN AMERICAN ICON now on view through September 4th at the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts. Sinatra sang in the studio and performed onstage for more than 50 years, recording hundreds of songs, and performing thousands of shows. Jam packed with memorabilia, music and all things Sinatra, this exhibit is both a loving tribute and a peek into the complicated life journey Sinatra took, from small time Hoboken street kid to saloon singer to concert and film star and in his later years, show biz royalty.
The personal mementos Sinatra collected, the home movies that were taken of him with family, photos, correspondence, music, and awards on display shine a warm light on a popular and hard-working performer who juggled a star-studded career with the obligations of family. Along his journey, Sinatra sought new challenges for his talents, from tap dancing with Gene Kelly to dramatic acting with Burt Lancaster to painting abstracts on canvas a la Wassily Kandinsky. SINATRA: AN AMERICAN ICON is a visual and audio feast for Sinatra fans and those who want to know more about Ol’ Blue Eyes.
SINATRA’S HOBOKEN DAYS
The exhibit begins in the library’s lobby with several black and white photographs including one taken in 1938 of a young and somewhat bewildered Sinatra at the microphone of the Rustic Cabin in Fort Lee where he worked as a singing waiter for $15 a week. Inside the entrance, several platinum and gold albums he was given are on display including one for selling 1 million copies of “Come Fly with Me” and another for “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”
Move on to a display of memorabilia from his early Hoboken days including parents Marty & Dolly Sinatra’s 1913 wedding portrait, a photo from when Marty, a Hoboken firefighter was burned during a fire; and one of the Hoboken saloon Marty O’Brien’s that Sinatra’s parents bought in 1920. Instead of naming the saloon Marty Sinatra’s, they gave it an Irish name because back then, Hoboken was divided into neighborhoods according to ethnicity and the bar was in the Irish section of town. Another Sinatra memento: Sinatra’s ID card from when he was a kid living at 841 Garden Street in Hoboken, printed in his own hand.
Ever since Sinatra was a kid, he would sing and accompany himself on the ukulele which is also on display: “While Frank’s primary interest was his voice, he had been playing ukulele since he was a boy,” it states next to the instrument on display. “He wooed his future bride the first time they met, serenading her with a song on the uke.”
The exhibit features a timeline of Sinatra’s life in Hoboken; his first marriage that took place in Jersey City and then a timeline of his early singing career where he crooned at the microphone as a soloist fronting Big Bands
A FILM STAR IS BORN
Sinatra’s early radio days are on exhibit with rarely heard recordings of broadcasts including Sophie Tucker’s private recording collection and a special 1945 V.J. Day show with Bob Hope, Meredith Wilson, and Orson Welles.
In 1953, Sinatra was cast as Private Angelo Maggio in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, based on the novel by James Jones. He won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Other films followed, some dramatic THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, and some called on him to be a song-and-dance man. The exhibit features the white dance shoes he and Gene Kelly wore in one of their dance numbers in “TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME.”
SING WITH SINATRA
In one room of the exhibit there’s a recording booth where a visitor can step inside and watch a video of Sinatra singing “The Theme from New York, New York.” It gets better. Visitors are given a chance to sing with the Master, just by hitting a button on the Touch Screen.
The exhibit reveals a lot about Sinatra’s politics, too, says one visitor.
“What I took from the exhibit is that Sinatra was a very complicated man,” Stan Sinberg, a writer and former New Yorker visiting from San Francisco says. “He was a pioneer in race relations. Just look at his TV shows in the 1950s and 60s where he’s singing with Ella Fitzgerald and they’re hugging and touching. This was rare back then. I was also surprised by his paintings. I had no idea he was a visual artist, too.”
Sinberg, who’s vacationing in Manhattan for several weeks, says he’s returning for a second look.
“There’s so much to see and listen to,” Sinberg says. “I really liked the recording booth where you can sing a duet with Sinatra. And when you play back what you recorded, the “Make It Stop” option was hilarious. I also liked the tuxedo in the glass case. He really was a skinny guy when he was young.”
SINATRA’S LATER YEARS
Sinatra expanded his artistic chops when he picked up a paintbrush and began expressing himself through oils and acrylics on canvas. Several of his paintings – bright abstracts with geometric shapes – are on view. He never sold his paintings, and preferred, instead, to give them away to family and friends – sometimes even fans.
Sinatra won Emmys, Oscars, a Golden Globe and so many more awards and well-deserved accolades during his career. His last official shows were December 1994 in Japan; right before his 79th birthday and his final show was on Feb. 25, 1995. He passed away three years later in Los Angeles on May 14, 1998, at 82. The White House awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985 and in 1998 the Congressional Gold Medal, posthumously.
ALWAYS THE SALOON SINGER
Sinatra always saw himself as a singer in a saloon, according to his daughter Nancy Sinatra, Jr.
“My dad’s roots were in the saloon, and he never forgot that, never lost that,” Nancy Sinatra says.
Nobody knew that better than Sinatra, himself. If you wanted to know the real him, all you had to do was listen.
“Just let me sing, baby,” he once said.
And so he sang…and we’re still listening.
If you go
Now through Sept. 4
SINATRA: AN AMERICAN ICON
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
40 Lincoln Center Plaza, NYC
Exhibit hours: Mon.12 – 8 pm; Tues, 12 – 6 pm;
Wed, 12 – 6 pm; Thurs, 12 – 8 pm; Fri, 12 – 6 pm; and Sat, 12 – 6 pm.