HOBOKEN, N.J. — “How did all these people get into my room?” Frank Sinatra happily shouted in 1966, as he arrived before a cheering crowd and a swinging band eager for his concert at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. Backed by the Count Basie Orchestra, Sinatra recorded a virtuoso album that graying Sinatra fans still listen to for a whiff of life’s sheer exuberance and drive.
Here in Hoboken, where Sinatra was born, it is eerie to hear what seems an antique scrap of that same Sinatra insouciance at the Hoboken Historical Museum, where the city, along with considerable parts of the world, has been celebrating the singer’s 100th birthday, which is on Dec. 12. The voice that will become The Voice intrudes at the close of a scratchy recording made some eight decades ago by the Hoboken Four, Sinatra’s earliest group, which found success in local gin mills. “We’re looking for jobs — how about it?” is suddenly heard in Sinatra’s cocky cadence.
The rest is history, of show business jobs and gold albums, an Oscar and celebrity romance. Just eastward across the Hudson River, the centenary celebration of Sinatra, who died in 1998, is in the priestly hands of Jonathan Schwartz. For decades, Mr. Schwartz has been Sinatra’s Boswell, the champion of his singing, the resident scholar of the American Songbook who ceaselessly talks and plays Sinatra on his radio shows. A rich array of celebration is underway by radio and web stream, with Mr. Schwartz playing and chatting with assorted experts and fans. They variously concede Sinatra’s shortcomings, splashed across the tabloids, but they cherish his pioneering pressure for racial fairness in show business. And, above all, they cherish his special gift for phrasing a song, exemplified pristinely “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.”
The Hoboken museum is offering somewhat more homespun tributes, including the eyewitness reminiscences of Rose Cafasso, a local resident and original Sinatra bobby-soxer who at the age of 94 tells of journeying by bus to his stage show at the Paramount in Times Square. “For 35 cents, we saw Frank, the greatest singer in the world, and had a movie,” Ms. Cafasso recounts with girlish affection. “I even went to his grave six years ago in Palm Springs.”
Sinatra’s power across the generations was well documented on the album “Duets,” one of his last before his death, a magnet for an array of the best modern pop singers, all eager to be recorded with him. “I’ve got you under my skin … so deep in my heart you’re really a part of me,” Bono croons on the album in what seems a confessional thank-you for lessons from a maestro. At the museum, a film shows local male finalists of assorted shapes and singing talent competing in the city’s annual Sinatra Idol Contest. With snap-brim fedoras, they try to ape his gentle stage gestures and ring-a-ding appeal. But Hoboken remains a long way from Vegas.
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