It would always be a great time to rediscover this wonderful treasure, but it’s especially apt now, in this, Frank Sinatra’s centenary year. On April 17th, 1973, Frank Sinatra performed at the White House, on the occasion of a state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy, with President Nixon, First Lady Pat and assorted dignitaries as his audience. It was a sterling show, and it was recorded, but never officially released. For my part I didn’t even know that a complete film of the evening even existed, although the audio has been released over the years in bootlegged form. (My first encounter with the concert was hearing the great Jonathan Schwartz play some extracts of it on New York’s old WQEW in the early 1990s, when I also happened to be in the first full flush of Sinatra fan-dom.)
Frank Sinatra had famously announced his retirement in March of 1971, so this 1973 show was a special exception to that status … and also turned out to be effectively the end of it. His orchestra on the night was the United States Marine Band, with the great Nelson Riddle conducting (including on some of his own classic arrangements), with Al Viola sitting in on guitar and naturally Bill Miller on piano.
The film has now been made freely available on YouTube not by some anonymous zealot of a fan who digitized it from a decaying old VHS tape found in a dank basement, but by the Richard Nixon Foundation. It’s great quality, albeit a tad dark at times. It’s embedded below, and everyone must watch the entire 43 minutes, but if for the moment you can only watch a little then you might go to about the 25 minute mark and hear Frank’s duet with Al Viola’s guitar on “Try a Little Tenderness.”
[ADDENDUM 5/26/15: Well, it’s been taken down, apparently nixed by a copyright claim. I hope it sees the light of day again.]
It is truly a terrific, precious concert, with Sinatra in very fine voice, in a small room, and performing a set list of ten total winners:
You Make Me Feel So Young
Moonlight in Vermont
One for My Baby
I’ve Got You Under My Skin
I Have Dreamed
Fly Me to the Moon
Try a Little Tenderness
Ol’ Man River
I’ve Got the World on a String
The House I Live In
(And no “My Way”! Which is why I can so easily say that it’s ten total winners.)
Outside the room swirled all kinds of political intrigue, as we know, but this occasion was all about the music. I’d also challenge anyone not to be touched by the humility and obvious sincerity in Frank’s statement about what it means to him to sing in this venue (around the 35:30 mark).
A big thank you to those who have enabled us to see this wonderful show after these years.