When Elvis Presley met Frank Sinatra
Two of the world’s biggest singing superstars caused a sensation when they filmed a TV special together.
When Elvis Presley met Frank Sinatra in 1960, it resulted in The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis, which attracted 67.7% of the overall television audience on the night.
The two celebrities indulged in a little banter together, before launching into a smooth duet of their biggest hits. It became a historic moment in television history when Presley and Sinatra sang a medley of each other’s most famous songs.
Sinatra kicked off with Presley’s 1956 US chart-topper, Love Me Tender, while Presley sang Witchcraft, Sinatra’s 1957 number six hit that stayed in the American charts for 16 weeks. Their vocal styles perfectly blended the well-known songs and climaxed with amazing gospel-style harmonies.
Rivals to friends
Once rivals, the performance led to the two superstars becoming friends Their rivalry had been growing since the 1950s. Although Sinatra was the biggest star of his era, he recognised Presley as an up-and-coming superstar. Both were popular with female fans in particular, although they came from different eras.
The show was 25-year-old Presley’s first television appearance in three years. Despite his massive stature, he was nervous. Sinatra, 44, had been singing professionally since before Presley was born. When both singers, dressed smartly in black tuxedos, filmed the show at Florida’s Fontainebleau Hotel, they radiated charisma and had the studio audience screaming for more.
Following their performance, on 26th March 1960, they became firm friends, until Presley’s untimely death in 1977.
Presley was born in January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. His musical inspiration came from attending the Assembly of God church as a child and singing gospel music. He received a guitar for his eleventh birthday in 1946 and although he had lessons from two uncles and the church pastor, he was largely self-taught.
After playing for fun, he recorded a demo at Sun Records of Memphis as a gift for his mother in 1953, paying for a few minutes’ studio time. Sun boss Sam Phillips liked what he heard and kept Presley’s details.
In 1954, while working as a truck driver, Presley was invited back to Sun studios by Phillips, who commissioned guitarist Winfield “Scotty” Moore and upright bass player Bill Black to accompany Presley in a recording session. Presley’s debut single, That’s All Right, was played on local radio and caused a sensation, propelling the 19-year-old to stardom almost overnight.
Sinatra was born in December 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey, beginning his musical career in the big band swing era. His early influences were easy listening singers, such as Bing Crosby. He was interested in jazz and decided as a teenager that he wanted to become a professional singer.
In the 1930s, he started singing at local nightclubs, with no formal musical training. He received radio exposure and recorded his first single, All or Nothing at All, in 1939. After attracting the attention of big band leader Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra was invited to join his band in 1940.
His solo career blossomed in the 1940s and he had a string of hit singles, as he was loved by the “bobby-soxer” teenage girl fans.
By the 1950s, both Sinatra and Presley were massive stars.
Sinatra was a respected actor and in 1953 starred in the classic romance, From Here to Eternity, as American soldier Maggio. The same year, he received a new recording contract with Capitol Records – his vocals gained a more mature jazz feel.
He was a founding member of the famous Rat Pack with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, epitomising the bad boy image adored by the popular press. His high-flying career in music and movies kept him at the top of his profession for decades.
He recorded some of the best-known hit songs in history including New York New York, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Fly Me to the Moon, Strangers in the Night, My Way and many more.
Presley’s career took off in earnest in 1956, after Colonel Tom Parker took over as his manager a year earlier. He began recording at RCA studios in Nashville, Tennessee, becoming a national sensation with a series of hit records including Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender and Don’t Be Cruel in 1956, followed by All Shook Up in 1957.
While Sinatra recorded swing and jazz, Presley was a pioneer of the new breed of rock ‘n’ roll singers. He dominated the charts and, like Sinatra, became a film star, making his debut in 1956 with Love Me Tender, followed by a series of musicals that showcased his acting and singing talents.
However, his show business career was put on hold when he was drafted into military service in the US Army in March 1958. Close friends later said Presley thought it might spell the end of his music career.
When Presley met Sinatra to record the TV special in 1960, they had been touted as rivals by the media for years. They were often asked about each other in interviews. Presley had just returned from his national service in West Germany and wasn’t sure how the fans would react after such a long absence.
He didn’t need to worry, as the moment he started singing, the screaming fans in the audience assured his comeback. He was reportedly paid $125,000 for his appearance – more than Sinatra’s fee for hosting the show! However, Sinatra was aware having Presley on board would attract huge ratings. When the show was broadcast on 8th May 1960, one of the songs Presley had sung, Stuck on You, reached number one in the singles charts.
The two stars struck up an easy rapport like they were old friends, rather than two rivals who hadn’t worked together before. They had rehearsed for a week before the recording, and this cemented a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Their music brought joy to many people over the years.
Presley has sold more than 500 million records worldwide and has been named as the best-selling solo music artist of all time by Guinness World Records. He won three Grammy Awards and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at 36.
Sinatra has sold 150 million records worldwide. US President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997. He won 11 Grammy Awards including the Grammy Legend Award, the Grammy Trustees’ Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Following Presley’s death in 1977, Sinatra said, “There have been many accolades uttered about Elvis’ talent and performances, all of which I agree with wholeheartedly. I shall miss him dearly as a friend.”
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