Saturday, February 5, 2011

Frank Sinatra's Black History Month

I kept thinking I should blog for Black History Month. After spending the past year and a half on Black History as I produced and promoted the documentary 'DuSable to Obama; Chicago's Black Metropolis" I have become enamored with the history I never knew.
So tonight I woke up from a strange dream and couldn't sleep, so I naturally picked up a book about Frank Sinatra. Everyone knows I love him, ever since I was a kid playing my mother's old records. She was always amazed when she'd come home from work to see that I have found those old records she'd put away. Maybe she was amazed that I was a Sinatra fan too!

What a generous person he was. Yeah, yeah I know he was somewhat of a thug, but who wasn't back then. We all know about that, but you never hear about all the things he did for civil rights and racial equality. In the 1940’s Sinatra was branded a ‘Red’, cause he was one of the first major stars to speak for the poor and the oppressed. He risked his popularity in 1945 to challenge the status quo and campaign against racial intolerance, intervening in a series of racist strikes at schools where parents opposed integration.

He did a 12 min documentary film in 1946 called 'The House I Live' where he gathers Whites who are fighting Blacks and sings the tune, 'The House I Live In, A Part of Earth, The Street.' (Yes I've seen it.) The movie showcased Sinatra's position on peace among races, social tolerance and family values. Duke Ellington called him 'a primo non-conformist'.

He opened up doors of opportunity for his Black friends in show business; Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Lena Home, Ella Fitzgerald (his favorite singer),Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Diahann Carroll. He wouldn't go in a hotel where Blacks couldn't stay or  entertain. He would never perform before a segregated audience, ever.

Sinatra was heavily influenced by Black performers, and unlike other White performers, he always gave credit to them. He said, "Billie Holiday, whom I first heard in 52nd Street clubs (in New York City) in the early 1930s, was and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me."

He once took Lena Horne to the Stork Club and they didn't allow Blacks. So the manager fumbled around, pretended to look at the reservation book, and obviously, they weren't going to seat her. The manager said to him, `Mr. Sinatra, who made your reservation? We don't seem to have it.' And Sinatra said, `President Abraham Lincoln.' Bee-yatch!
(I added the bee-yatch part;-)

He also integrated Las Vegas, for real! No more back door entrances for Lena, Ella, Sammy etc. Sinatra would not play in a hotel there unless Black entertainers could have the same
facilities and go through the same entrances. In his personally written article in 1958 for Ebony Magazine, "The Way I Look At Race" (July 1958), Sinatra protested the use of racial slurs and called bigotry a disease. He said , "My friendships were formed out of affection, mutual respect and a feeling of having something strong in common. These are eternal values that cannot be racially classified. This is the way I look at race."

He also gave generously of his time and money to help Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Civil Rights Movement in the '50s and '60s. Jesse Jackson Sr. has said "In the '60s at the height of our rebellion against apartheid in the South, when we were facing beatings, murders, abuse and governors blocking school doors, Dr. King reached for voices of the culture that would speak out and stand with us." Jackson remembers, "Frank Sinatra came South, along with Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte. His presence was a huge international statement. It allowed the best of people to stand up and change the worst of people..

He an even did a Rat Pack benefit for Dr. MLK in 1961!
In 1960 Wilberforce University gave him an honorary Doctorate in Humanities degree for his practice of true democracy.
Sinatra said 'Professionally and musically I cannot begin to evaluate the tremendous importance of Negro singers and musicians to my development as a singer. The debt I owe them is too immense ever to be repaid. It has been much more than a long association. I have been on the receiving end of inspiration from a succesion of great Negro singers and jazz artist..."

Happy Black History Month from Ol' Blue Eyes
The Chairman of the Board;-)


  1. Very interesting history! BA! Theo is currently conducting a show in Vegas called the Ratpack and we were talking about the historical role that the pack played in Vegas.

  2. I never new that babs. I always thought he was just a another John Wayne or Elvis Presley.