Watching the Grammy Awards on Sunday night reminded me when Frank Sinatra made his last appearance at the Grammy Awards nearly 23 years ago at the 36th Annual on March 1, 1994. He was 79 years old. He was to win the Grammy Legend Award presented to him by Bono, who had done a duet with him on a recent album.
Instead of showing the respect due to one of the greatest voices of the twentieth century, Sinatra was unceremoniously cut off as he was speaking.
As we are in the midst of the annual awards season, it always astounds me in the way that our great performers from the past generation are generally forgotten while the emphasis is placed on the new talent. I personally enjoy watching the appearance of the classic artists who are typically ignored.
Cutting off Frank became a controversy. From the Grammy Website -here is their official response to the brouhaha:
“Bono would strike a different tone in presenting Frank Sinatra with his Grammy Legend Award. Bono began his brilliant tone poem salute like this:
“Frank never did like rock and roll. He’s not crazy about guys wearing earrings either, but he doesn’t hold it against me and, anyway, the feeling is not mutual. Rock and roll people love Frank Sinatra because Frank Sinatra’s got what we want: swagger and attitude. He’s big on attitude, serious attitude, bad attitude. Frank’s Chairman of the Bad. Rock and roll plays at being tough, but this guy, well, he’s the Boss. The Boss of Bosses. The Man. The Big Bang of Pop. I’m not gonna mess with him, are you?”
Sinatra’s own comments would prove significantly more controversial. Sinatra — now approaching the age of 80 — was clearly moved by the huge standing ovation that he received — a reaction that seemed in the moment like a massive expression of respect and multigenerational reckoning. “Thank you very much,” he said when he finally spoke. “That’s the best welcome I ever had.” Sinatra’s comments from then on were a fascinating mix of vintage Rat Pack jokes (“This is more applause than Dean heard in his whole career”), personal thanks to his wife Barbara and even hurt feelings that he was not being asked to sing on this night. Yet for the record, even the aging Chairman’s rambling revealed singular phrasing.
Controversy ensued when Sinatra was cut off and the broadcast was taken to a commercial break before wrapping things up. Later The Academy let it be known that the decision had come from Sinatra’s camp, but the impression of disrespect had already been made. Even the Grammy host felt the need to distance himself on air from the decision, albeit with a memorable wink in the end. “Before I go on, I think you’d join me going on record that Mr. Sinatra should have finished his speech,” Garry Shandling told the audience. “I think that was a slight mistake. This is live television and I’m sure Mr. Sinatra will get even by cutting this show off in another hour.”