A Use of Fame

As the black rights movement began to gain popularity in the mid-1900s, mainly due to burgeoning public awareness about unequal opportunities and treatment, music played an important role in creating a unique space to express emotion and build community. However, the people behind the music held a significant amount of power and influence, a reputation built up as they gained rapport. Especially as audiences were able to see more and more of their favorite performers, on television in interviews and sometimes in multiple forms of media (performing music and acting in movies, for example) an artist’s opinion often held great weight. Therefore, although one might not think of Frank Sinatra as someone fairly important to civil rights movements, primarily considering he was of Italian heritage, it turns out that his reach was more extensive than some people may think.

Frank Sinatra performed a great variety of genres over his long and extremely successful career of singing and performing, but in the 1940s and 50s he was known primarily as a crooner, or a male singer who sang in a smooth an intimate style. This was primarily enabled by the development of better microphones in the 1940s that could pick up a wider range of pitches and harmonics, and was popularized by big bands and jazz vocalists. Frank Sinatra had a significant amount of contact with different jazz groups, singing in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands, before becoming a solo artist as World War 2 rolled around, however it should be noted that both bands were composed almost entirely of white men playing jazz, with few actual black performers.

Despite him not singing with any major black ensembles of the time, nor significantly collaborating with black artists, Sinatra was a tremendous advocate for racial equality. In 1945, he sang at the anti-black strike at the Froebel high school in Gary, Indiana, where he, according to one article in the Chicago Defender, “told the teen-agers to ‘kick out’ the adult instigators.”1 Ironically, Sinatra was also passing up the chance to attend a New York rally honoring him for racial tolerance in order to sing in Gary. He also spoke with students and adults of the school and urged them to study the Springfield Plan, which was a historic plan first implemented in the primary school system of Springfield, Massachusetts, and served to define how multiracial schooling should be established throughout the United States.

Even though Sinatra was unsuccessful at ending the strike, his attendance at the event was noted and the school even reported that student attendance increased following his visit, even though the strike continued. Hilariously, the principal of Froebel, according to the article, “indicated that he believed the singer should have been ‘tolerant’ towards the anti-Negro strike leaders.”2 This serves as a small example that, regardless of background, there were those who were trying to use their influence and fame to foster tolerance and equality.

Works Cited:

1 RICHARD DURHAM Defender, Staff Correspondent. 1945. “Frank Sinatra Fails To Break Gary Hate Strike: Talk, Songs Win Applause But Walkout Still On Crooner Introduced By Negro Youth At Big Rally Of 5,000 ‘THE VOICE’ BLASTS GARY HATE STRIKE.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Nov 10. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/frank-sinatra-fails-break-gary-hate-strike/docview/492782477/se-2.

2 Ibid.



Sergei Rachmaninoff, an American Pop Influencer

I am, I believe, about to further complicate the question “what is American music?”

“Full Moon and Empty Arms,” 1946

Having just performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, I thought it would be interesting to look into how his music influenced popular music from the mid to late 20th century after being informed by my parents about Eric Carmen’s “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” using Rachmaninoff’s theme from the third movement. There are, of course, many other songs that are based on works by other famous composers, but I wanted to focus on Rachmaninoff in particular.

Looking through UCLA’s Sheet Music Consortium, I was not able to find anything on Eric Carmen, however. But, I was able to find a work by Buddy Kaye and Ten Mossman titled “Full Moon and Empty Arms” (1945) that was popularized by Frank Sinatra. It is based on a theme from the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Returning to Eric Carmen, another popular American singer, he had two popular songs based on themes by Rachmaninoff; “All By Myself” (1976) and “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” (1976). The first song is another piece that is based on a theme of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, while the second piece is based on the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. I will focus on the second piece as I am more familiar with Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony than his Second Piano Concerto.

Rachmaninoff’s theme from the third movement first shows up at 0:32 of the above recording of “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.” The reason being that Eric was classically trained and was a fan of Rachmaninoff. Thinking his music was in the public domain, he used that theme to create his song.

Returning to the original question, “What is American Music?”, this crossover music helps identify what I consider to be “American Music.” Looking at Frank Sinatra and Eric Carmen’s careers, they are easily identifiable as Popular American Singers, with her music defining “American: popular music of their time. However they both drew on themes composed by a Russian composer, and on top of that, much of Carmen’s style is based on those of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, evident from his time with The Raspberries.

Finally, I will actually ask the question: What is American music?

Like many things regarding identity today, there is no singular answer as it lies on a spectrum. For me, it is the curation (appropriation could be another way of describing it) of cultural and racial identities into ones own “authentic” voice. America is known as the “melting pot”  or the “salad bowl,” and although today those references are often scene as a negative way of describing it, America is a center (not the only one) of culture and ethnic diversity. With regards to the music of Eric Carmen, Buddy Kaye, and Ten Mossman, credit is given to Sergei Rachmaninoff which sets an example for how one should borrow from other influences other than your own, while still creating a new and authentic form of that music.



Ankeny, Jason. “The Raspberries | Biography & History.” AllMusic. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-raspberries-mn0000416245/biography.

Kaye, Buddy and Mossman, Ted, “Full Moon And Empty Arms : Based on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2” (1946). Vocal Popular Sheet Music Collection. Score 856.

“Rachmaninoff: How Russian Romanticism Inspired 1970s Hits.” WDAV: Of Note. August 7, 2014. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://blogs.wdav.org/2014/08/rachmaninoff-the-composer-who-inspired-1970s-hits/.
“Sinatra meets Rachmaninoff.” Full moon blog. November 7, 2011. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://www.fullmoon.info/en/blog/sinatra-rachmaninoff.html.
“Thread: Modern popular songs based on classical music.” Magle International Music Forums RSS. August 14, 2005. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://www.magle.dk/music-forums/940-modern-popular-songs-based.html.