When I first heard Sinatra's voice as a teenager, I was unimpressed. To be honest, I thought his singing was boring. He was not, like my idol, pop/operatic tenor Mario Lanza (1921-1959), a high-note singer. (His single “Be My Love” sold more than two million copies, unprecedented for a classical singer). As a teenager, with a healthy dose of testosterone running through my veins, high notes are what turned me on. It’s for this reason that Sinatra’s voice seemed unemotional to me—especially in comparison to the pathos that one finds in operatic singing. So I ignored him, even though the parents of many of my friends adored him. One of my closest friends, Jimmy Onofaro, was an unapologetic Sinatra fanatic. In the early 1970s, he and I spent hours arguing about the respective merits of Sinatra and Lanza's voices. My mind was closed, I would not forsake Lanza for Sinatra.
Many years later in 1989, when I began teaching the great triple-threat Shirley MacLaine and the multi-talented Liza Minnelli, I couldn’t avoid the imposing presence of Sinatra. Shirley was sort of an understudy for the original Rat Pack, which included Hollywood legends Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, and of course, the head rat, Frank Sinatra. Frank, Dean, and Sammy tutored Shirley in the fine points of entertaining. She learned from them how to entertain—how to sing, move on stage, narrate stories, tell jokes, and deliver perfectly timed punch-lines. All this, along with her fine dancing skills, kept her audiences in the palm of her hand. Shirley and Frank also starred together in a number of films, most notably Some Came Running and Can-Can. Of course, Liza has a special connection with Frank through her legendary singer-actress mother Judy Garland. Liza and Sinatra also worked and toured together.
While teaching Shirley and Liza, Sinatra’s singing would continually come up. It was thanks to my exposure by these two great entertainers that I first began to recognize the magnitude of Sinatra's contribution to American music, and especially, to the singing art. In their minds, Sinatra was always the benchmark by which all other singers were to be measured. They said that Sinatra had it all—voice, style, attitude, intelligence, charisma, and extraordinary powers of vocal communication. Finally they convinced me that what lay behind Frank’s vocal talent was an artist beyond compare.