Connie Francis – living the American dream
By Derek Mead
CONNIE FRANCIS was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero on December 12, 1938.
In a lengthy varied and progressive career, she was basically an American pop singer/vocalist with her chart successes being in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She is described as the original Italian-American queen of pop; the most successful international female vocalist of the 1950s and 1960s; the first female teenager to register a UK No.1 single, and the first female solo artist to top the UK album chart. Recordings in the singles chart totalled 244 weeks and in the albums chart totalled 31 weeks.
She was bom into an Italian-American family in Newark, New Jersey, having spent her early years in a Brooklyn neighbourhood. She was motivated by her father to appear regularly in talent shows from the age of four as a singer/accordion player, then changed her name to Connie Francis and dispensed with the accordion.
The 64 years of Music and Song started in 1955 whenMGM Records signed a contract with her, but her first nine solo singles were failures, and it was not until 1957, that she enjoyed a first chart success with a duet recorded with Marvin Rainwater ‘The Majesty of Love’ which was to sell more than a million copies, even though her contract was not renewed.
Then, in her final session for MGM, on October 2, 1957, she recorded a cover version of a song from 1923 ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ which she did not personally like. However, in April 1958, the song reached No.1 in the UK singles chart and No.4 in the US.
For the following four years Connie was voted ‘Best Female Vocalist’ by American Bandstand viewers, with MGM Records renewing her contract. She immediately sought a new hit and she met Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield who played ‘Stupid Cupid’ to her, which Connie pronounced to be her second hit and it reached No.1 in the UK singles chart and No.14 in America.
She then hit the US Top 40 seven more times during the remainder of the 1950s, and covered older songs as hits including ‘My Happiness’ (No.2) and ‘Among My Souvenirs’ (No.7). In 1959, she achieved two gold records double-sided ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’ (No.5 ) and Frankie (No.9 ).
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Connie’s career took a different direction. She firstly recorded an Italian album at Abbey Road Studios ‘Connie Francis Sings Italian Favourites’, which remained in the Album Charts for 81 weeks, reaching No.4. It still remains her most successful album and ‘Mama’ , the single from the album, reached No.8 in the US and No.2 in the UK.
She then went on to record more albums of ‘Favourites’, including German, Jewish and Irish, singing in many languages. She still recorded singles for the youth market including ‘Where the Boys Are’ (No.4 in 1961) which became her signature tune. Her 1960 recordings ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’ became her first No.1 on the US charts and then a second No.1 ‘My Heart Has a Mind of its Own’.
During the following years, she increased her foreign language portfolio to 15 languages and was popular even in the Cold War Countries. Her third No.1 hit was in 1962 ‘Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You’, and in 1963, she performed at The Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II in Glasgow.
In 1967, she also performed for US troops in the Vietnam war. Her final Top 10 hit was ‘Vacation’ in 1962, but her success in the Top 100 declined in the mid 1960s. Her career had progressed through recording singles to overseas popularity, then a mature style for her popular concerts and even to the Country charts.
These progressions protected her career, although the hits declined in the US, and from 1970 until 1973, she became semi-retired but appeared on TV shows. Then, in 1973, she recorded ‘Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ by Tony Orlando and Dawn, which had limited success but she resumed her career.
However, in 1974, she was attacked at the Westbury Music Fair and went into depression. Then in 1977, following surgery, she lost her voice. In 1978, she was back in the recording studio for an album ‘Who’s Happy Now’ which included a disco style ‘Where the Boys Are’ which Connie also recorded in numerous European and World languages, thus returning to her early 60s activity.
In 1981, she developed manic depression, halting her career again for four years. In 1984, her autobiography ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ was published and became a best seller. Yet again, in 1989 Connie resumed her career recording and performing with a double album ‘Where the Hits Are’ which included ‘ Are You Lonesome Tonight’ and ‘Torn Between Two Lovers’.
In 1992, her singing in German included a compilation album. Then ‘With Love to Buddy’ was a tribute album, her last original release in 2011 although she still releases under her own label ‘Concetta Records’.
Her most recent autobiography ‘Among My Souvenirs’ was published in 2017, a wonderful collection of Connie’s songs and music, mainly from the fifties and sixties, sometimes with her melancholy voice all moving gently through the ether and never to be forgotten.
Film and television.
Connie starred in seven films in the 1950s and 1960s. Most notable was ‘Where the Boys Are’ (1960) and one television film ‘The Sister and the Savage’ (1966) a Bob Hope Presentation.
For Every Young Heart (1963) – Who’s Sorry Now (1984) – Among My Souvenirs (2017).
Connie was married four times, not to celebrities, the longest lasting being five years 1973 to 1978. She became a friend of Bobby Darin and they developed a romantic relationship and intended to elope but her father disapproved. Later Connie considered that not marrying Bobby was the biggest mistake of her life. But could their relationship have been no more than a myth? Many thought so!
In 1968, she supported Richard Nixon’s bid for the Presidency, and in the 1980s, she became Ronald Reagan’s head of his task force on violent crime. The remainder of Connie’s life is mainly in the service of American veterans.
‘Who’s Sorry Now’ was named one of the Songs of the Century in 2000. There is a street sign ‘Connie Francis Court’ displayed in Belleville New Jersey close to her childhood home.
In 2009, a star was displayed on the Italian Walk of Fame. In Connie’s Biography on her website, when asked about her legacy, she said: “1 hope I did OK.”
Connie Francis Major Singles/Albums and UK Number Ones/Top Tens
Who’s Sorry Now UK1
Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid UK1 My Happiness UK10
Lipstick On Your Collar UK10 Mama/Robot Man UK10
Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool UK 10
My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own UK10
Where The Boys Are/Baby Roo UK10
Together UK 10
Vacation UK 10
20 All Time Greats UK10
(copyright July 2019)