Saturday, July 28, 2007

Billie & Frankie

On 16 July 1959 in New York Billie Holliday, aged just forty-four, died from the effects of excessive drug use. Just the year before Frank Sinatra acknowledged his debt to Billie in an interview with The Melody Maker

“Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years. With a few exceptions, every major pop singer in the United States during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius.”

Forty-nine years ago Billie had appeared on British TV for the first time and she told the Melody Maker that she was working in England because “I can’t get my police card to work New York, so how can I make it there? I’m Billie Holliday singing is the only thing I know how to do. Do they expect me to go back to scrubbing steps – the way I started out?”

It’s interesting to compare the fates of Billie and Frank; both were brought low, in part from their own self-destructive tendencies. Frank battled against his and Billie succumbed. As a black woman in what was still a very prejudiced world she was not so lucky.

On 25 July 1959 Frank began a week’s booking at Skinny D’Amato’s Club 500 in Atlantic City. Red Norvo backed him again in a set that was almost identical to his Australian tour, although he had added ‘High Hope’s. You can hear what his set was like as an album of Sinatra’s Australian tour has been issued and can be bought here.

His seventy minute set at the Club 500 was usually included I Could Have Danced All Night, Just One Of Those Things, I've Got You Under My Skin, It Happened In Monterey, Moonlight In Vermont, The Lady Is A Tramp, One For My Baby, Come Fly With Me, I Get A Kick Out Of You, High Hopes, Day In, Day Out, All The Way and of course the ubiquitous monologue.

Frank’s appearances at the Club 500 were becoming a regular summer occurrence, so much so that the club’s billboard announced his arrival with the laconic “He’s Here” and the equally laconic “He’s Gone” after he’d left. The 500, along with most of the small supper and nightclubs in Atlantic City have long since disappeared. The 500 is remembered as there is a tiny street, that has been renamed 500 Club Lane, located just off the end of the Atlantic City Expressway, near Caesar’s Palace. The last show of the night at the 500 started at 5a.m. and the clubs patrons read like a who’s who of the rich, the famous, the connected and of course the mob.

Saturday night at the Club 500 forty-eight years ago must have been quite a gig.


r morris said...

Regretfully, I never saw Sinatra in concert. The closest I'll get is live recordings.
Thanks for the review.

Willie MacSporran said...

She (Billie) was a classie lassie, right enough.