Frank Sinatra paid a price for his lifelong commitment to equality and justice. He was accused of being a communist seven times by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and the FBI tried to smear him, too — your tax dollars at work, or rather, your grandparents’ tax dollars at work, or your great-grandparents’.
He once remarked that if you went on the radio and talked about a fair deal for the average citizen, you’d be accused of being a communist. [He was alluding there to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s radio ‘fireside chats’ in which he explained his New Deal policies to the American people — policies like Social Security and Worker’s Compensation.]
When the communist tag didn’t stick, they decided to link Frank to organized crime. Of course! He’s Italian! And they wasted a lot of our tax dollars on that angle and caused him a lot of trouble. Michael Powell details all this in a great article in “Popular Music and Society.”
Now you might say, “Well, yea, but they never made a dent in Sinatra’s popularity. He had a fabulously successful career from beginning to end.”
I have to point out that FBI and HUAC accusations destroyed a lot of very promising careers, and even if, in the end, Frank was able to laugh them off, he ran a great risk. I consider him a hero. So does the NAACP, which gave him a lifetime achievement award.
He loved America, but he could also see what was tragically wrong with America, and he really did something about it. And on top of that, he did it with style. Frank snapped his fingers, and his adoring fans changed their attitudes.
One New York music critic, early in Sinatra’s career, had this to say about the young singer’s outspoken views in favor of racial equality:
“Some performers will suggest that Sinatra is stupid to step out of character, suggest that singing and social significance shouldn’t be coupled. But it seems to this observer that Sinatra instead has added something new and important to popular singing, a species of disinterested public service we should all render to the things we believe.”
That critic was a guy by the name of Ed Sullivan. He went on to host a variety show that got pretty popular. I think you could say he spoke for America. Thank you, Frank, for leading the way.