Frank Sinatra’s Birthday and His Syracuse Connection

Today in 1915, Frank Sinatra, Old Blues Eyes, the Sultan of Swoon, was born in New Jersey. He would go on to be one of the most important artists in the 20th century and even play the War Memorial in Syracuse in the 1970s. According to,

“Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on December 12, 1915, Frank Sinatra rose to fame singing big band numbers. In the ’40s and ’50s, he had a dazzling array of hit songs and albums and went on to appear in dozens of films, winning a supporting actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity. He left behind a massive catalog of work that includes iconic tunes like “Love and Marriage,” “Strangers in the Night,” “My Way” and “New York, New York.” He died on May 14, 1998 in Los Angeles, California.”

But, did you know that  Jimmy Van Heusen, a Syracuse native, wrote around 40 top-hits for Sinatra?

You can listen to some of those hit songs in the playlist below.

 So, who was Jimmy Van Heusen?

Jimmy Van HeusenBorn Edward Chester Babcock on January 26, 1913,  Jimmy attended several local area schools before being expelled for misbehavior of some sort or another.  Music was his first true love, but his father didn’t approve, so Chester chose a stage name from a shirt collar advertisement and, at age 16, he began a radio career at local stations WSYR and WFBL as Jimmy Van Heusen (though his closest friends would always continue to call him Chester).  On those shows, he would often play the piano and write songs on the spot for listeners who phoned in a subject.

He also attended Syracuse University for a time but left for New York City in 1933 when he and his neighbor, Jerry Arlen (brother of Harold “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Arlan), picked up Harold’s gig at the Cotton Club when Harold was called to Hollywood to write songs for the movies. While in New York City, Jimmy landed a songwriting contract for the music publisher, Remick Music Corp., which brought him into contact with Hoboken, New Jersey native, Frank Sinatra.  Their mutual love of women, music, and late night revelry created an intensely close friendship that lasted 50 years.

Beautiful music is only one part of a great song and, throughout his career, Jimmy worked with some of the best lyricists of all time, including Eddie de Lange, Johnny Burke, and Sammy Cahn. Though Jimmy eventually became famous for his music, his first hit came, surprisingly enough, as a lyricist in 1938 for a tune by Jimmy Dorsey called “It’s the Dreamer in Me”.  In early 1940, he teamed with lyricist Burke to write the music for “Imagination”, his first big hit for Sinatra, who recorded it with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.  Another of the 60 songs he wrote that same year was a follow-up chart topper for Sinatra and Dorsey called “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”.  The team of Burke and Van Heuesen was so prolific, and so successful, they became known as the “Gold Dust Twins”.

It wasn’t long before Sinatra made his move to the movies and, together, he and Jimmy made Hollywood their personal playground.  Jimmy shared an apartment in the Wilshire Towers with Sinatra’s conductor-arranger, Axel Stordahl, that became ground zero for some of the wildest parties of the Hollywood hey-day era.  Jimmy and Frank cut a wide swath through the starlets who populated the streets of Tinseltown throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.

Jimmy was one of the original hardcore, though low profile, “Rat Pack” members.  Frank and Jimmy were best buddies and, uncharacteristically, there was no competition between them, even for the ladies they both loved so much.  Jimmy didn’t have Frank’s good looks and fame, but he had more than Frank’s share of personal magnetism and swagger, which resonated with women.  The famous actress and beauty, Angie Dickinson, who alternately dated both men noted that many people “always said that Frank really wanted to be Jimmy”.  Van Heusen once said “I dig chicks, booze, music, and Frank Sinatra…in that order”.  He was funny, bawdy, and talented and was the life, and often the instigator, of those famous parties.  Everybody loved Jimmy, and Jimmy loved a lot of those bodies back.