In Pete Hamill’s wonderful new riff on Frank Sinatra, we learn about the enormous positive impact “Old Blue Eyes” had on the immigrant Jewish community and other ethnic newcomers to America in the years following the Depression.
Hamill’s book, called “Why Sinatra Matters” (Little, Brown & Company) contends that the music of the Hoboken, N.J., native, who died last May at the age of 82, will survive long into the future — like other great works of art. But Hamill, the Brooklyn-born newspaperman and author of the popular novel, “Snow in August” also asserts that Sinatra was a hero to many first-generation immigrants seeking to be accepted into an America that viewed them with suspicion and contempt. This weekend, Hamill will address such issues at a three-day conference on Sinatra at Hofstra University.
The book, Hamill told The Jewish Week, “attempts to say some things about Sinatra that somehow were not said when he died,” when newspaper obits focused on his controversies and stormy love life. Hamill reminds: “He had confronted bigotry and changed the way people thought about immigrants.” And he writes: “The life and career of Frank Sinatra are inseparable from the most powerful of all modern American myths: the saga of immigration. Because he was the son of immigrants, his success thrilled millions who were products of the same rough history.”
It was Sinatra, Hamill asserts, who gave immigrants a voice, by using his.
“Sinatra created something that was not there before he arrived; an urban American voice. It was the voice of the sons of the immigrants in northern cities — not simply the Italian Americans, but the children of all those immigrants who had arrived on the great tide at the turn of the century. That’s why Irish and Jewish Americans listened to him in New York.” Hamill also sets the record straight on The Mob, (noting that many of its leaders were Jews,) and that the celebrated New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was actually Jewish (his mother was Jewish and father Protestant). Hamill’s 1997 novel, “Snow in August,” told the moving tale of a young Irish boy from Brooklyn who befriends a rabbi Holocaust survivor.