Born in Hoboken, New Jersey as the son of a quiet father and a talented, tempestuous mother, Sinatra decided to become a singer after hearing Bing Crosby on the radio. He began singing in small clubs in New Jersey and eventually attracted the attention of trumpeter and band-leader Harry James.
After a brief stint with James, he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1940 where he rose to fame as a singer. His vast appeal to the "bobby soxers", as teenagers were called, revealed a whole new audience for popular music, which had generally appealed mainly to adults up to that time. He was the first teen idol.
He later recorded as a solo artist with some success, particularly during the musician's recording strikes. Vocalists were not part of the musician union and were allowed to record during the ban by using a capella vocal backing.
Sinatra's singing career was in decline in the late 1940s and early 1950s when he made a spectacular comeback as an actor in From Here to Eternity (1953). His singing career rebounded soon afterward. He later appeared in many films, the most noteworthy being The Man with the Golden Arm, and The Manchurian Candidate.
He originally recorded for Columbia Records in the 1940s but switched to Capitol Records in the 1950s, where he worked with many of the finest arrangers of the era, most notably Nelson Riddle and Billy May, with whom he made a series of highly regarded recordings. By the early 1960s, he was a big enough star to start his own record label: Reprise Records. His position with the label earned him the long-lasting nickname "The Chairman of the Board".
In the 1950s and 1960s, Sinatra was a popular attraction in Las Vegas. He was friends with many other entertainers, including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Together, along with actor Peter Lawford and comedian Joey Bishop, they formed the core of the Rat Pack, a loose group of entertainers who were friends and socialized together.
Sinatra played a significant role in the desegregation of Nevada hotels and casinos in the 1960s. Sinatra led his fellow members of the Rat Pack in refusing to patronize hotels and casinos that denied service to Sammy Davis Jr., an African-American. As the Rat Pack became the subject of great media attention due to the release of the film Ocean's Eleven, many hotels and casinos, desiring the attention that would come from the presence of Sinatra and the Rat Pack in their properties, relented on their policies of segregation.
Sinatra was dogged throughout his later career by accusations that he was involved with the Mafia and that his career was aided behind the scenes by associates in organized crime. J. Edgar Hoover apparently suspected Sinatra over the years, and Sinatra's file at the FBI ended up at 2,403 pages. Sinatra publicly rejected these accusations many times, and was never charged with any crimes in connection with them. The character Johnny Fontane in the book and movie The Godfather is widely viewed as having been inspired by Frank Sinatra and his alleged connections.
Sinatra's singing career continued into the 1990s, most notable with his Duets albums on which he sang with other stars such as U2's Bono. He continued to perform live until 1995, but the nearly 80 year old singer often had to rely on teleprompters for his lyrics, to compensate for his failing memory.
A frequent visitor, property owner and benefactor in the Palm Springs, California area, Sinatra wished to be buried in the desert he grew to love so much and gave so much to when his time came. Though Sinatra died in 1998 (of multiple ailments) in Los Angeles, his funeral was held some 120 miles east at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Palm Springs. Sinatra was buried a few miles due east of St. Theresa next to his parents in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, a quiet, unassuming cemetery near his famous compound in Rancho Mirage which is located on the beautiful, tree-lined throughfare that bears his name. His longtime friend Jilly Rizzo, who died in a Rancho Mirage car crash shortly before Sinatra's death is buried nearby as is pop star, former Palm Springs mayor and United States congressman, Sonny Bono. Legend has it that Sinatra was buried with a flask of Jack Daniel's whiskey and a roll of dimes thanks to his daughter, Nancy. Sinatra was never without a roll of dimes in his pocket, a habit he incurred due to the requirement imposed on him by the kidnappers of his son, Frank Jr. (see below) that all negotiations were to be made by public telephone.
Recorded legacySinatra left a vast legacy of recordings, from his very first sides with the Harry James orchestra in 1939, the vast catalogs at Columbia in the 1940s, Capitol in the 1950s, and Reprise from the 1960s onwards, up to his 1994 album Duets II. Some of his best known recordings are "My Way", "New York, New York", "Night and Day", "Love and Marriage", "I've got you under my skin", "Strangers in the Night", and "Fly Me To The Moon". Of all of his many albums, At the Sands With Count Basie, which was recorded live in Las Vegas in 1996, with Sinatra in his prime, backed by Count Basie's big band, remains his most popular and is still a big seller.
Family lifeSinatra was married to his childhood sweetheart Nancy Barbato, in Jersey City, New Jersey on February 4, 1939. They had three children together: Nancy Sinatra (born June 8, 1940), Frank Sinatra Jr. (born January 10, 1943), and Christine "Tina" Sinatra (born June 20, 1948). Although Sinatra did not remain faithful to his wife, he was by many accounts a devoted father. However, his affair with Ava Gardner became public and the couple was separated in 1950. They were divorced on October 29, 1951.
Sinatra married the actress Ava Gardner on November 7, 1951. They were separated on October 27, 1953 and were divorced in 1957.
On December 8, 1963, Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped. Sinatra paid the kidnappers' $240,000 ransom demand, and his son was released unharmed on December 10. The kidnappers were subsequently apprehended and convicted.
Sinatra married actress Mia Farrow, 30 years his junior, in 1966. They were divorced two years later.
Barbara Blakely Marx divorced her husband Zeppo Marx to marry Sinatra. They wed 1976. She remained his wife until his death.