Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Sinatra: An American Icon Exhibit on View through September 4 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Frank Sinatra. Ken Veeder/ © Capitol Photo Archives

Frank Sinatra. Ken Veeder/ © Capitol Photo Archives

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is presenting a new free multimedia exhibition exploring the life and career of Frank Sinatra. Curated by the GRAMMY Museum of Los Angeles in collaboration with The Library for the Performing Arts and the Sinatra Family, Sinatra: An American Icon, which is the official exhibition of the 2015 Frank Sinatra Centennial, tells the story of a master singer, performer, recording artist, and actor. The exhibition will be on display in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery, Shelby Cullom Davis Museum at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located in Lincoln Center, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza in New York, through September 4, 2015. The exhibition can be viewed Monday and Thursday – 12pm-8pm; Tuesday,  Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – 12pm-6pm.

American music history is populated with great vocalists who have interpreted human emotion, the world in which we live, and our dreams and hopes in the most elegant and memorable of ways. Jazz singers, pop crooners, blues belters, soul men and soul women—they’ve all made their mark on our collective music culture. Sinatra: An American Icon is presented in cooperation with the Sinatra Family and Frank Sinatra Enterprises, and will feature many artifacts from the Sinatra Family’s personal collection. The exhibition will include rare concert and interview footage, personal correspondence, private photos, awards, and other memorabilia, as well as music and film documents from the Library. In conjunction with the exhibition, The Library for the Performing Arts will also offer a variety of Sinatra-related public programs and film screenings of On the Town (Mar. 16), The Man With the Golden Arm (May 4), High Society (June 4), Pal Joey (June 8), and A Hole in the Head (June 15). Click here for more information and here for a schedule of film screenings.

Ol’ Blue Eyes: Ready for His Close-up

In the 20th century there is one name, however, that stands out just a little more than the other recording and performing greats we have known and loved. He was an artist of such uncommon talent that he was known simply as “The Voice.” His name was Frank Sinatra. He had the most rare of gifts: an immaculately sculptured voice of soul and strength, one rich in both tone and texture to go with the phrasing of a poet and an uncanny knowledge of nuance. He could turn a simple ballad into an emotional odyssey that ventured into the deepest part of our hearts, and he could celebrate a city and a people in way that drew us together like nothing else during good times and bad. Is there anyone in our town, as Sinatra liked to call New York, who doesn’t deeply identify with his classic take on “The Theme from New York, New York?”

Sinatra’s story is a long and complicated one. He came from Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River, and from humble Italian-American roots. He learned to sing mostly on his own. From the start, he reached for the stars and got there when few figured he would. Popular music’s first true teen idol, Sinatra began his career making girls swoon and fronting big bands during the years of the second World War. He made records and movies too, winning GRAMMY Awards and Oscars. He demanded the best from himself and everyone around him and got it almost always. When he sang the lyric, “I did it my way” from his hit song “My Way,” such words never rang more true.

But Sinatra was more than a singer and performer. His career is a study of artistic excellence; the quest for perfection never left him. Sometimes it haunted him. Learning how Sinatra made great music is nothing less than the unraveling of the mysteries of the creative process. Sinatra sang in the studio and performed onstage for a half century. Hundreds of songs, thousands of shows. Audiences adored him. Yet he wasn’t a saint. He hated the incessant attention given him, especially in the media. Gossip columnists made him crazy; they seemed to bring out the worst in him. He loved women and women loved him back. He could be demanding one moment, but a tender, giving philanthropist the next. To ease his mind and restore his spirit, he painted. He never sold a canvas; instead he gave away his work to friends and family and sometimes even fans.

From almost the beginning, Sinatra also had the silver screen in mind. His early films were fun and fluffy, but gradually he learned the art of acting and in 1953, he was cast as Private Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity, based on the popular novel of the same name by James Jones. Sinatra won his first Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) for his riveting role and he never looked back. Along the way he made numerous memorable films, including The Manchurian Candidate in 1962, a classic Cold War suspense thriller released at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It is considered one of the best movies of that decade.

The 1960s was a busy time for Sinatra.He made movies, recorded albums, toured, and became a record company executive. Reprise Records, an affiliate of Warner Bros., became Sinatra’s label. He performed the role of talent scout and became a visionary from the business side of the music. He made records with his daughter Nancy and elevated the art of popular singing in the midst of the rock revolution with such as standards as “Strangers in the Night.”

Through it all, Sinatra never stopped singing, never stopped making music, either onstage or in the studio, and never stopped being Sinatra. By the time of his death in 1998 at age 82, he had won so many accolades and awards and had made his mark in American popular music so dramatically and deeply that there was no one who could step into the shoes of this “saloon singer,” the term he liked most when describing himself. “Just let me sing, baby,” he once said. And that’s exactly what he did. And everyone who heard him felt a little bit better about the world and themselves.

Following its premiere at The Library for the Performing Arts, the exhibition will travel to The GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles, and other U.S. destinations.

Throughout 2015, the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth will be celebrated around the world with commemorative centennial events, exhibitions, and new music and film releases. Click here for more information.

This traveling exhibition is made possible through the generous support of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select.

cropped-lia-chang_photo-by-carlos-flores-3.jpgLia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

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Click here  for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2015 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

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