From The Bottom To The Top

13 Days! That’s right, we’re really getting there. And today we’ll continue our narrative, if you’re still with me. Today’s stories are about to take very interesting turns.

Frank with the Hoboken Four in the first known recording of his voice. 1937
Frank, on the far right, with the Hoboken Four in the first known recording of his voice. 1937

I suppose we’ll start with the Hoboken Four (this narrative is by no means step by step as you’ve probably already guessed). Frank began singing in this quartet in the mid to late 1930’s. They did rather well, actually, and it is from his singing with this group that we have the first known recording of his voice. What I love about his voice at this point so early in his career is how different it sounds from his later years but yet you can still tell that it is him, in any case it’s amazing. These were the start of his crooning years, even as only one person in a quartet. Without his role in the Hoboken Four, it is impossible to say where Frank’s career would’ve gone or if it would’ve taken off like it did right from the beginning. Whatever the case, when he was singing with them they made it on the radio, and from there everything kind of took off. According to James Kaplan, one of Frank’s biographers, people were stopping at this voice on the radio and asking who it was. And that was only the beginning.

From the Hoboken Four Frank moved on to sing for the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands. These were big names and big music in the era of big bands. Honestly, Frank couldn’t have done better for himself at this point career wise. He was in a great place to meet the right people and learn a lot. And learn he did. It was from Tommy Dorsey that Frank learned some of his greatest signatures, like phrasing the lyrics and the correct way to breathe. However, we’ll move away from his career for a moment and take a look at his personal life. Which, I”ll be the first to admit, is always a little bit controversial. (Trust me, I’ve just about heard it all.)

The mugshot, 1938.
The mugshot, 1938.

But because I’m also a history major behind all of this, I’m going to go for accuracy, even if it means opening up on the controversy a little. I suppose we’ll just begin with the picture to the right: the famous mugshot. First of all, let me point out that his scar is very visible in this picture, from the left corner of his mouth down to his jaw. This happened in 1938. The charge? Carrying on with a married woman, which was a criminal offence at the time. The charge was later changed to adultery and then dismissed altogether because the woman kept changing her story. Whatever the case, this picture of young Frank, to put an iconic mugshot lightly, is quite something.

Frank and his first wife Nancy on their wedding day in 1939.
Frank and his first wife Nancy on their wedding day in 1939.

Well, as fate would have it, a year later in 1939, Frank got married. Her name was Nancy Barbato, and they had actually been seeing each other for a few years. According to the stories, Frank’s mother Dolly didn’t like Nancy at first, as she didn’t like most of Frank’s girlfriends. However, Nancy was raised in a proper Catholic household and Dolly soon came to warm up to her enough that she actually encouraged the marriage. Frank and Nancy would go on to have three children and a marriage of twelve years, most of which wasn’t really that happy. But the beginning was hopeful. Frank was with the big bands and after their marriage Nancy actually went with Frank cross country as the band toured. That didn’t last long, however, because she wanted to stay home and have children. Their first child, Nancy, was born a year after their marriage in June of 1940. Frank and his first daughter were always incredibly close, and even in her youngest years when he was out with the big band and starting his solo career there are many touching photographs of them. Even more than that is the song which was later written for both of Frank’s Nancys entitled “Nancy”, which Frank sang for them in the mid 1940’s.

At this point, Frank was with the bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, crooning away and wearing bow ties. But he had gone from the streets to the big bands, and he didn’t stop there.


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