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FRANK SINATRA: 1915-1998

A Silent Toast, a Touch of Class

May 16, 1998|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe it's heresy, but my most cherished memory of Frank Sinatra doesn't involve a note of his legendary singing.

It was during his 1982 concert at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre--the first time the Chairman of the Board had sung in Orange County--which I was assigned to review. Fittingly for a man who did so much charity work, the concert was a benefit for a local group that assisted the developmentally disabled.

Expectations ran high that night--if Orange County could land Sinatra, anything was possible.

Fall in the hills where Irvine Meadows sits can get quite nippy, and on that Saturday night it was both cool and damp under cloudy September skies.

When he appeared on stage in his signature tuxedo, the 66-year-old man who started out as a scrawny kid from the Italian section of Hoboken, N.J., epitomized uptown class for this most suburban of audiences.

About 20 minutes into the show, those clouds could contain themselves no longer and began to let loose, first light droplets, then heavier splashes of rain.

Umbrellas popped open. Jackets came up over heads.

Sinatra, safe and dry under the cover of the Irvine Meadows stage, walked to the piano and picked up a wine glass. He returned to the front of the stage, looked out at the fans huddled under their umbrellas and simply raised the glass in tribute, an unspoken "Here's to you."

Fans cheered, some shouting "It's all right" and "We don't mind." The rain continued, and he cut the show short at about 45 minutes, promising the crowd that he'd make it up to them and be back another night. I never heard anyone complain that they felt shortchanged.

I saw Sinatra perform locally several times over the next few years--a couple of shows at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, including one with fellow Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr., and a stellar stint in 1993 that opened the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

His performances were up and down--in some everything was stunningly on the money; at others, his gaze was glued for most of the night to TelePrompTers slowly scrolling lyrics to songs he once never had to think twice to recall.

I can't think of a Sinatra concert where he didn't exhibit his characteristic indebtedness to his fans and to the songwriters who made his career, or offer at least one unforgettable performance from the treasure trove of saloon songs he loved so well.

I'll always go back to his recordings to remember what a remarkable musician he was.

But in my mind, I'll always have the image of him at the edge of the Irvine Meadows stage on a dark, rainy night, his outstretched hand holding a wine glass directed to his fans.

Mr. Chairman--here's to you.

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