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What Singers Can Learn from Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra with open arms

Singer, writer and broadcaster Gary Williams explores what we can learn from the legendary Rat Pack singer.

We’ve just celebrated 100 years of Frank Sinatra. His impact on popular music, film and live performance is unmatched.

Throughout his 60 years as an artist, he was known as Ol’ Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board, and sometimes the most dangerous man in show-business.

He had four wives and a few more lovers, dined with presidents and gangsters, and sold over 150 million records. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid and now make my living singing many of the songs he made famous.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Sing the Lyrics, not the Words

We’ve all heard people say what a great singer Sinatra was. They go on about his phrasing and his timing, but his real gift was knowing how to sing the lyric.

Good songwriters craft their lyrics to tell a story. It’s the singer’s job to understand that story and to deliver the sentiment of the lyric as sincerely as possible.

Mel Torme’s a terrific singer, but compare rendition of the standard P.S. I Love You with Sinatra’s. Torme’s is clean and pitch perfect but it’s Sinatra’s that brings you to tears. He aches along with you, less bothered about making the perfect sound and more concerned with making you feel something.

2. Dress the Part

Frank Sinatra in a suit

When you’re standing on stage with hundreds of people staring at you for an hour, what you wear matters. Whether your stage costume is a suit and shiny shoes or jeans and trainers, pay attention to the way you dress and what it says about you.

Look after your stage clothes. They say a lot about who you are and how much (or little) you care.

3. Appreciate and acknowledge the musicians and arrangers

Making music is a collaborative business. You may be the front man but that doesn’t make your contribution any more important than your musicians, the technicians, the stage manager and so on. Respect everyone. Musicians loved working for Sinatra because they were well looked after, and the respect was mutual. He would often credit the arrangers and writers on stage and never forgot to acknowledge his musicians. A performance is a team effort. Share the love.

4. Take care of yourself

After a few months of playing Sinatra in the West End’s ‘Rat Pack’ I lost my voice. My manager sent me to his private doctor who happened to have been Sinatra’s doctor too. There was no infection; I’d lost my voice because I’d been out drinking and partying after the shows. After giving me a proper telling off he gave me a little insight into his other client, Mr Sinatra:

Despite the image of all-night boozing with his Rat Pack buddies, Sinatra actually took great care of himself and his health when he was touring. He didn’t smoke and drank very little. He got plenty of sleep and avoided spending too much time in noisy places. The good doctor would meet with him early every morning at a church on Tottenham Court Road to check him over and nip any problems in the bud.

Your voice is a precious thing. Take care of it.

Gary Williams Gary Williams – singer, broadcaster and author – has been described as “a true song stylist” by London What’s On and “the UK’s leading standard bearer for the supercool era” by the London Evening Standard. The star of the West End’s “Rat Pack” is a favourite with big bands and concert orchestras throughout the world, from the BBC Concert Orchestra to the Melbourne Symphony. As a broadcaster, he’s presented and written shows for BBC Radio 2, Jazz FM and The Wireless where he hosts the weekly show: Legends of Las Vegas. His book on stagecraft has been described as “an invaluable guide” by Playbill. Gary Williams is the author of ‘Cabaret Secrets – How to Create Your Own Show, Travel the World and Get Paid to Do What You Love’. You can find a new series of free video tutorials at www.cabaretsecrets.com

  • Fubar2

    That was the thing about Sinatra. Although technically, he wasnt the most gifted of crooners, no one can dispute that his phrasing, his timing and his delivery was impeccable. I find Dean Martin and Sammy Davies much more moving personally, but I have to acknowledge that Sinatra did indeed have a gift for doing what he did. That cant be disputed by anyone.

  • Marcos Ficarelli

    Thank you. I would add a point: “Rehearsal”. Too much, so that the orchestra could play totally out of the chord, just freely, with only the bass maintainning the root, and he never missed the note. He was tough in tune. Every arranger loved to work with him, they could show their work. Many other famous singers could only sing with sections straight in tune … boring!

  • Michael Vaughn

    Not just here, but overall, Frank definitely connected with the lyrics, while Mel was more technically correct.
    Personally…of all the crooners, I’ll take Tony Bennett every time.