How Frank Sinatra Became the Original Teen Idol

A Brief History of the Jazz Vocal Sensation "Ol' Blue Eyes"

American singer and actor Frank Sinatra c. 1935
MPI/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Frank Sinatra (born December 12, 1915) was known as one of the greatest big band and jazz vocal crooners of his generation and one of most highly acclaimed singer-actors of all time. He inspired a generation of teenagers, becoming the first teen idol in history and forming one of the first known instances of "teenage cultures" in America. Frank Sinatra has sold over 150 million records worldwide, produced seven number one albums and multiple chart-topping singles throughout his career.

Early Life

Francis Albert Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey on in December 1915 to an Italian immigrant family. Due to a complication in his birth, Sinatra suffered scarring of the neck and ear that would remain a hallmark of his image. He took an interest in music young, listening to Rudy Vallée, Bing Crosby, and Gene Austin in his youth.

Though well-loved, Sinatra was a terror in school, and dropped out early; at age 17 he decided to become a singer after seeing Bing Crosby perform, a decision which got him thrown out of his boyhood home. Nevertheless, his mother soon relented, helping him to get local gigs with a group later called the Hoboken Four and, later, as a singing waiter at a nearby resort. Bandleader Harry James' wife heard Frank sing as a waiter and recommended him to her husband.

A Star is Born

The James gig got Sinatra noticed in the industry, and a handful of b-side records were waxed that got some recognition. But it was only when bandleader Tommy Dorsey bought out the contract with James that "Ol' Blue Eyes" became a star. By 1942, he was the most popular big-band vocalist in the land.

When Sinatra became upset that his allowance from Dorsey didn't match his fame, he lit out for a solo stint on Columbia. It was here that Frank became the idol of "bobbysoxer" teenage fans everywhere, culminating in the so-called "Columbus Day Riot" of 1944 when 35,000 teenage girls mobbed the New York Paramount to see him sing.

Awards and Honors

Through his career, Sinatra received four GRAMMY, two Emmy and one Oscar for his word in music, television, and film and had multiple number one singles. His legacy lives on as three separate stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: 1600 Vine Street (motion pictures), 1637 Vine Street (recording), and 6538 Hollywood Boulevard (television).

In 1985, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During the presentation, President Ronald Reagan said of Sinatra, "For nearly 50 years, Americans have been putting their dreams away and letting one man take their place in our hearts. Singer, actor, humanitarian, patron of art and mentor of artists, Francis Albert Sinatra and his impact on America's popular culture are without peer. His love of country, his generosity toward those less fortunate, his distinctive art, and his winning and passionate persona make him one of our most remarkable and distinguished Americans, and one who truly did it ``His Way.''

A Star 'Til Death

Changing tastes and the rise of hard R&B and rock in the postwar years dimmed Sinatra's relevance somewhat, and a failed marriage to sultry actress Ava Gardner complicated matters. But Sinatra rebounded masterfully, reinventing himself as a singer of mature torch songs for adults, and he soon led the field in new releases. His foray into acting was a commercial and critical success; by the early Sixties, he'd become a Vegas institution, performing and partying with his "Rat Pack" of multi-talented performers. He made several comebacks from then through the early Eighties and died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 82.