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Billie Inspires Frankie

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“With a few exceptions every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius.” – Frank Sinatra

“We don’t have a singer,” said the manager at the Rustic cabin. “We have an MC that sings a little bit.” Which is how 24 year-old Frank Sinatra very nearly didn’t become the boy singer with the Harry James band. Harry’s wife, the singer Louise Tobin, who was packing to leave town to play some dates with her boss Benny Goodman and his band, was listening to the radio when she heard Frank on the WNEW Dance Parade from the Rustic Cabin. She and Harry were both staying in a New York hotel as he had a booking at New York City’s Paramount Theater, the 5000 capacity “bastion of elegance on tawdry Times Square” as one New York paper described the place. The next night Harry drove over the George Washington Bridge and headed for the Rustic Cabin to find out about the singer, “I asked the manager where I could find the singer”. Harry later recalled.

After their wedding Frank had resumed his role as waiter, albeit a singing one, at the Englewood roadhouse on Route 9W in New Jersey and he and Nancy were living on $50 a week in their Garfield Avenue apartment. Not that it was that much of a struggle, the average family income at the time was closer to half that. Nancy was bringing home the same as Frank from her secretarial job at American Type Founders.

When Sinatra had a night off from singing to the diners at the Rustic Cabin he would work on his vocal technique by visiting New York’s nightclubs on 52nd Street where he saw both Billie Holiday. Billie became an inspiration to young Frankie, as she did to so many singers, both male and female

“Bending those notes, that’s all I helped Frankie with.” – Billie Holiday

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