Sinatra Hat

Jazz Appreciation Month Recalls Sinatra the Activist

Sinatra Hat

The act of a single person—even through music—can influence history. The Smithsonian

We remember Frank Sinatra as perhaps the greatest singer who ever lived. Overlooked is the role he played in promoting respect for others, embracing those who are different. April is Jazz Appreciation Month and Sinatra dominates the poster for the event. JAM, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, shines a spotlight on Sinatra’s early role in embracing cultural diversity and how music, especially jazz, continues to unite us all.

While the festival is centered in Washington, events will be held all over the country, and includes special concerts, exhibits, and lectures. A complete listing can be found on the JAM website.

Throughout his career, Sinatra had a deep appreciation for talent and often performed with African American singers and musicians including Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and many others. And, of course, Sammy Davis Jr. was a member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack. Duets, released in 1993, Duets II, in 1994, united Ol’ Blue Eyes with Aretha Franklin, Bono, Julio Iglesias, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Cole, and Anita Baker. Sinatra died in 1998, but his music crosses borders and continues to bring together people all over the world.

It was another September 11, this time in 1945, and America was coming out of World War II. A decade before Rosa Parks took that seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Sinatra recorded a song intended to remind Americans why we fought a war. The song, “The House I Live In,” was written by Abel Meeropol, a New York City school teacher and was overtly patriotic and ahead of its time in preaching civil rights.

What is America to me? A name, a map, or a flag I see…All races and religions, that’s America to me.

Sinatra sang the song in a ten minute Hollywood film that appealed to all Americans to come together after a long, horrific war, to remember that the liberties fought for should be available to everyone. For the film, Sinatra won an honorary Academy Award and a special Golden Globe. The song was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

All these years later, the song still holds significance and Sinatra’s efforts, one person calling for change, reminds us all that each and every one of us can make a difference. This year’s theme, “Jazz Crossing Borders & Cultures,” will show how music continues to be a uniting force and celebrate musicians who continue to work for change, including jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, UNESCO’s Goodwill Cultural Ambassador.

The Frank Sinatra portrait by artist LeRoy Neiman, first used on the Duets cover, is being used for the JAM poster with permission from Frank Sinatra Enterprises. The Smithsonian has printed nearly 200,000 posters for free distribution to schools, libraries, music and jazz educators, radio stations, U.S. embassies worldwide, and others. Email your poster requests to jazz@si.edu and tell the museum about your most memorable Frank Sinatra moments.

Read Charlene Giannetti’s review of James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Voice.

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