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He had a lot of nicknames: "Chairman of the Board," "Ol' Blue Eyes," "Frankie Boy," "Swoonatra" or simply "The Voice." But for all his aliases — not to mention his place in popular culture — Frank Sinatra's vocal instrument left a permanent mark on 20th-century America. His versions of the country's popular songs set a definitive standard for singers and instrumentalists alike.
Born in 1915, Francis Albert Sinatra grew up in Hoboken, N.J., in an age when new technologies — sound films, electronic recording and radio — suddenly made music accessible to a much larger audience. It was also an era where singing was coming into the modern age, courtesy of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby. Though the young Sinatra initially aspired to become a journalist, an encounter with a Bing Crosby film turned him around.
Radio boosted Sinatra's early ambition. A syndicated program called The Original Amateur Hour heard Sinatra's solo audition, paired him with a pre-existing vaudeville trio, and sent the group on tour around the country as the Hoboken Four.
Of course, Sinatra had solo ambitions, and he eventually landed a gig as a singer and waiter at The Rustic Cabin, a club in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Again, radio brought him a critical break: New York's WNEW regularly broadcast from the venue, and in June 1939, trumpeter Harry James was listening. A star of Benny Goodman's ensemble, James was starting his own big band at the time, and happened to be looking for a "boy singer."