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Happy 100th, Frank Sinatra: Robert Davi on the Legacy of ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ and Today’s ‘Cultural Decay’

Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 years old on Saturday.

The legendary entertainer’s life and career have been recounted in greater detail than could ever be done here, but it is sufficient to say that Ol’ Blue Eyes’s cultural legacy and impact on the musical and artistic direction of the country in the 20th century is nearly unmatched by any other entertainer.

Everyone will celebrate Sinatra’s centennial in their own way; Jack Daniel’s, the crooner’s brand of choice, will release the special “Sinatra Century” whiskey in India, while Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in Manhattan, a favorite haunt of Sinatra’s, will offer diners a meal comprised of some of his favorite foods on Saturday.

The actor and singer Robert Davi, a close friend and associate of Sinatra in his later years, is celebrating in his own way. Davi, who released a full-length album of Sinatra covers in 2011, is back with a new celebratory EP, 12-12-15, containing some choice Sinatra staples culled from a live performance in Niagara Falls earlier this year. Davi also performs Saturday night at the Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut, for a special 100th birthday celebration of Sinatra’s musical legacy.

Of course, Davi is well-suited to expound on Sinatra’s contribution to American culture.

“Sinatra gave me my first Jack Daniel’s. At two o’clock in the morning at a social club in Little Italy,” he tells Breitbart News.

The 62-year-old New York City-bred Italian-American said he was first exposed to Sinatra’s music “in utero.”

“My parents — my mother was a bobby soxer, my dad wanted to be a crooner — so in utero I probably heard the music. In my household, I loved the Italian popular songs that my grandmother sang around the house. And the opera, I loved the opera. I was drawn to it. In my basement, on a wind-up record player, I’d put on these great albums of Caruso, Sinatra, all the great bel canto singers.”

“And Sinatra’s voice inspired me. I enjoyed Bing Crosby and some of the other singers of course, but Sinatra’s voice especially hit me immediately, as it did with many people. But for me, because I was so interested in the opera, I analyzed what he had done. He was the first singer to bring the bel canto technique from the Italian opera to popular music. And that gave him a depth in his interpretation and tone.”

Davi explained why Sinatra’s voice stood out from the other entertainers of his time:

He captured the loneliness of that generation. They call him the first “method singer,” because he sang his autobiography. The diary of his life is in the music. As it should be for all singers. Gustav Mahler said, “Music is the closest to the absolute.” So if you’re channeling and connecting to that, how do you then open up your psyche and your soul to communicate to people your human experience?

And then the music unifies you with them and they have the commonality of that musical experience that you’re sharing together. That’s why he was so intimate in his connection as a singer. Most people sang notes, sang sound; he sang experience.

Sinatra had an outsize influence on Davi as an up-and-coming entertainer. The two became friends when Sinatra personally selected Davi to star as Mickey Sinardos in the 1977 NBC TV movie Contract on Cherry Street. The role opposite his idol precipitated Davi’s move to Hollywood, where he fell in with Sinatra’s crew, in some often-interesting ways.

“I put [my singing] on hold and concentrated on acting, and I got this first film with Sinatra, in 1977,” says Davi. “And then he became a friend, Jilly Rizzo and the whole crew of guys, and that then brought me to Hollywood for the first time. And even if I hadn’t seen Frank every day, the guys were always telling me, ‘Frank saw this, he saw that, he wants to say hello.’ I didn’t impose myself. I didn’t really tell him that I sang. I wasn’t really going for the singing, knowing that at some point I would.”

Davi said he began to return to his first love when Sinatra passed away in 1998.

“When he was alive, he was doing it. There was that voice. That would be the music I would want to sing,” he explained. “But when he passed, I noticed there was a void in terms of that experience. He was the first, well, he was the only singer where if he looked you in the eye and said, ‘I’m going to break your legs,’ you’d believe him. If I say that, you believe it too [laughs].”

He went on:

“So now what happens is, he dies, I see my career is going good, I’ve got my TV shows and my acting, but I knew I wanted to get back to the music. And I knew I wanted to do the American Songbook. Because I saw the divisiveness in our country. It was 2008. And it was the American Songbook that made the world fall in love with our nation. People learned English because of that songbook. There was a cohesive aspect to it, a romance.

In 1957, the song that won the Oscar for Best Song was “All the Way,” by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. In 2006, the song that won the Oscar was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” [from the film Hustle and Flow]. So the cultural decay in the music, I saw that. I’m no prude with music, I love all kinds of music, but even if you were frustrated, you didn’t rap a song about killing Donald Trump. You didn’t rap a song about “hoes, and shooting people, and killing them in the street, and the pigs are coming.” That wasn’t the culture. You were told to lift your language, to lift out of the street. Now what’s happening is, that music is keeping people in the street. Keeping them culturally bound to a lack of striving for something else. So I wanted to bring the songbook, and the story of Sinatra’s championship against racial bigotry and anti-Semitism (because there is a growing sentiment of both) to the country and to the world. As well as simply sing the music with as much passion as I can.

When asked what his favorite Sinatra tune is, Davi demurs: “There’s just too many.”

Check out Davi’s latest EP, 12-12-15, here. For tickets to Davi’s Sinatra centennial celebration, visit the Foxwoods Casino website here.

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