Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday Commemorated at UNLV
UNLV students were treated to a lecture regarding the life and career of the world’s best-selling jazz singer, Frank Sinatra, in commemoration of his 100th birthday, which would have been on Dec. 12 of this year.
This lecture, which was conducted in the Lee and Thomas Beam Music Center on May 2, was hosted by professor of jazz history at New Jersey City University Arnold Jay Smith.
Prior to the lecture, four jazz studies graduate students of NJCU performed several Sinatra hits, including “Come Fly with Me,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Summer Wind.” The band included guitarist Ricky Banks, drummer Charles Windstar, pianist Shane Morter and bass player Paul LaPlante.
The sold-out crowd of the Dr. Arturo Rando-Grillot Recital Hall applauded and cheered as Sinatra’ face appeared on a projection screen behind the band as Smith walked toward the podium.
Smith covered an assortment of topics during his two-hour lecture, including Sinatra’s affiliation with Las Vegas, as well as his alleged links to organized-crime.
He spent the first portion of the lecture discussing Sinatra’s early life, and his rise to prominence as a jazz singer.
“What Frank did in order to rise to fame back in his day was very brave,” Smith said. “At the time, jazz singers were not exactly in the mainstream, and radio stations focused more on the instrumentals.”
Smith displayed a copy of Sinatra’s debut album, “The Voice of Frank Sinatra,” which he described as one of few records that prominently and legitimately generated a cultural shift in music.
Other records he credited as cultural shifters included “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”
Smith then discussed Sinatra’s career from the mid-1940s until the early 1960s, which he described as “the generation owned and operated by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.”
“There was nobody, I repeat nobody, more popular in the entertainment industry than Sinatra for almost 20 years,” Smith said. “He was everywhere: in music, on the big screen, on television and anywhere else people could easily notice. Whether you liked it or not, Frank was part of your life back then.”
Smith also provided various statistics of Sinatra’s recording career during the zenith of his career. He discussed Sinatra’s distinction as the only recording artist to release six best-selling records within a year, in 1962.
“It is an unsurpassable feat, regardless of what Frank’s critics will say,” Smith said.
He also said that the only artist to come remotely close to Sinatra’s record is Elvis Presley, who released three best-selling albums in 1971.
Smith’s second half of the lecture began with Sinatra’s career upon the British Invasion in 1964.
“The whole thing of Beatlemania is what essentially and effectively ended Frank’s career,” Smith said. “He still had a couple of great records after 1964, but it was all about the cultural shift, and he was considered old-fashioned by this point.”
Smith also said that upon the rising prominence of The Beatles, Sinatra experienced negative media publicity for his connections with various mafias, and a series of critically panned films and records.
“All of this eventually led him to his so-called retirement in 1971, which many believe was an excuse for Frank to evade himself from the scathing criticisms he confronted with,” Smith said.
Smith dedicated the last 20 minutes of his lecture discussing about Sinatra’s last two decades within the entertainment industry.
“By this time, he basically made his money performing incessantly in Las Vegas,” Smith said. “He did, however, record “New York, New York” in 1980, and made some publicized television appearances, but Las Vegas accurately summarizes the latter part of his career.”
The lecture concluded with the four jazz studies students performing “My Way,” which featured vocalist and NJCU alumni Jonathan Stevens.
The event also offered a reception after the conclusion of the performance in the lobby area of the recital hall, where Smith answered questions from attendees.
The lecture received positive reception from UNLV students.
“It’s amazing how much one guy accomplished so much within his lifetime,” said music performance major Joseph Ortiz, 24. “I think it just goes to show, no matter how big a person might get, everyone in the music industry eventually evaporates out of the mainstream. It’s a lot like life, nothing lasts forever.”
The UNLV music department is planning to hold a similar lecture for Dean Martin in two years, also commemorating his 100th birthday.
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