Sinatra's hometown leads centennial celebrations

Hoboken (United States) (AFP) - Frank Sinatra's hometown dedicated a plaque in his honor, capping celebrations of the singing legend's centennial year despite his ambivalent relationship with Hoboken, New Jersey.

A century after "Ol' Blue Eyes" was born in the working-class town across the Hudson River from New York, several hundred fans turned out to remember him -- mostly local residents, but with a smattering of die-hard Sinatra fans from around the world.

Befitting a celebrity who moved to California and rarely looked back at his place of birth, the Hoboken Historical Museum on an unusually warm December day unveiled a star in the fashion of the Hollywood Walk of Fame on the brick walls of its entrance.

The star to mark one of the 20th century's great entertainers, who died in 1998, read, "Francis Albert Sinatra, 'The Voice.' Born in Hoboken."

Zach Alexander, a poised 20-year-old, serenaded the Hoboken crowd by singing some of Sinatra's best-loved tunes including "My Way," "Strangers in the Night," "I've Got You Under My Skin" and -- with the Manhattan skyline visible from a distance -- "Theme from New York, New York."

Alexander, who in a nod to Sinatra's meticulous fashion standards sported a tuxedo with cufflinks, said that he was a fellow Italian American and that his first musical memory was his grandmother playing a vinyl single of Sinatra's "Summer Wind."

"Ever since then I was hooked," he said.

Tony Hebden, who said he has listened to Sinatra for 40 years, traveled to Hoboken from Leeds, England.

Hebden came with his wife, Anne, and said that they earlier got married in Hoboken out of love for Sinatra.

"This is a bit of a cliche but it was a bit the soundtrack to my life -- sad songs, joyous songs, swinging songs," he said.

Other foreign fans included Andreas Est, who lives near Dusseldorf in Germany and said he owned virtually every record by Sinatra.

"I wanted to sleep the night of this day in Hoboken," said Est, who will later head to parties being held in Hoboken starring Sinatra impersonators.

- Return of interest in Sinatra -

The hometown ceremony culminates a busy centennial year that was packed with Sinatra tributes as well as book and recording releases.

Among the biggest events was a nationally broadcast concert in Las Vegas -- one of Sinatra's adopted home bases -- organized by the Grammy Awards.

In a sign of Sinatra's massive influence over contemporary music, interpreters of his songs ranged from pop singers Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Sam Smith to country stars Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood to Latin rocker Juanes.

Along with his musical talent, Sinatra also owed his success in part to publicists who encouraged young women to scream at his shows and carefully crafted an image of the singer as a working-class Italian American who worked his way up.

Yet Sinatra rarely spent significant time in Hoboken after his success and is buried in California.

One of his most prominent late-career trips to Hoboken came in 1984 when he campaigned with then president Ronald Reagan, who Sinatra befriended as the singer transitioned away from his family's left-leaning politics.

Yet Robert Foster, director of the museum, said that the crowds at Sinatra's centennial celebrations showed that he remained a major draw for Hoboken.

"Some say that Sinatra didn't do anything for Hoboken, but I think we can see here what he has done," he said.