World on a String: Frank Sinatra and the Italian-American Mafia

He is a sight recognizable throughout the United States: donning a well-fitting nondescript-yet-expensive suit with a fedora on his head, a handgun in his jacket, and a black suitcase in his hand, the classic gangster is a sight deeply rooted in modern American culture.  Like many things that are now familiar aspects of mainstream culture in the United States, however, this depiction of the archetypal gangster has its roots in ethnic discrimination against Italian-Americans in the early- to mid-20th century.  It was into this hostile anti-Italian environment that a wave of Italian-American musicians led by Frank Sinatra emerged on the scene and pushed their way into homes throughout the United States.  These singers, particularly Sinatra, redefined the American music industry, bringing an Italian-American flair to the forefront of an evolving American culture – a flair that would one day sit at the core of the American cultural tradition.  In the process, they removed the stigma surrounding Italian-American culture, and indeed even resulted in the romanticizing of organized crime.

Works Cited

Findlay, John. People of Chance: Gambling in American Society from Jamestown to Las Vegas.

New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Guys and Dolls. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 1955.

Santa Monica, CA: MGM Home Entertainment, 2005. DVD.

Kaplan, James. Frank: The Voice. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

Rotella, Mark. Amore: The Story of Italian-American Song. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010.

Talese, Gay. “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” Esquire, April 1966.

The Godfather. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 1972. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures, 2008. DVD.

Special Acknowledgements for the assistance in creating the timeline

Frank Fazio for pointing the author in the direction of James Kaplan's biography of Sinatra