Connie Francis (born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, December 12, 1938) is an American pop singer of Italian heritage and the top-charting female vocalist of the 1950s and 1960s. Although her chart success waned in the second half of the 1960s, Francis remained a top concert draw. Despite several severe interruptions in her career, Francis is still active as a recording and performing artist (as of November 2011).
1938-1955: Early life and first appearances edit:
Francis was born in the Italian Down Neck, or Ironbound, neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, the first child of George Franconero, Sr., and Ida Franconero (née Ferrari-di Vito), spending her first years in a Brooklyn neighborhood on Utica Avenue/St. Marks Avenue before the family moved to New Jersey.
Growing up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood, Francis became fluent in Yiddish, which would lead her to later record songs in Yiddish and Hebrew.
In her autobiography Who's Sorry Now?, published in 1984, Francis recalls that she was encouraged by her father, George Franconero, Sr., to appear regularly at talent contests, pageants and other neighborhood festivities from the age of 4 as a singer and accordion player.
Francis attended Newark Arts High School in 1951 and 1952. She and her family moved to Belleville, New Jersey, where she graduated as salutatorian from Belleville High School Class of 1955.
During this time, Francis continued to perform at neighborhood festivities and talent shows (some of which were broadcast on television), appearing alternately as Concetta Franconero and Connie Franconero. Under the latter name she also appeared on NBC's variety show "Startime Kids" between 1953 and 1955.
During the rehearsals for her appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, Francis was advised by Godfrey to change her stage name to Connie Francis for the sake of easier pronunciation. Godfrey also told her to drop the accordion - advice she gladly followed, as she had begun to hate the large and heavy instrument. Around the same time, Francis took a job as a singer on demonstration records, which were brought to the attention of established singers and/or their management who would subsequently choose or decline to record the song for a professional commercial record.
1955-1957: Recording contract and commercial failure edit:
In 1955, "Startime Kids" went off air. In May that same year, George Franconero Sr. and Francis' manager George Scheck raised the cash for a recording session of four songs which they hoped to sell to a major record under Francis' own name. The story goes that every record label they tried turned her down, mainly because, as a demo singer, Francis could copy other popular singers of the day like Kitty Kallen or Kay Starr, but had not yet developed a distinctive sound of her own.
Finally, even when MGM Records decided to sign a contract with her, it was basically because one track she had recorded, "Freddy", happened to be the name of the son of a company executive, Harry A. Myerson, who thought of this song as a nice birthday gift. Hence, "Freddy" was released as Francis' first single, which turned out to be a commercial failure, just as her following eight solo singles.
Despite these failures, Francis was hired to record the vocals for Tuesday Weld's "singing" scenes in the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock, and for Freda Holloway in the 1957 Warner Brothers rock and roll movie Jamboree.
In the fall of 1957, Francis enjoyed her first chart success with a duet single she had recorded with Marvin Rainwater: "The Majesty of Love", b/w "You, My Darlin' You", peaked at # 93 on Billboard's Hot 100.
1957-1959: Last chance and breakthrough edit:
But her minor chart success came too late - Francis' recording contract consisted of ten solo singles and one duet single. Even though success finally had seemed to come with "The Majesty of Love", Francis was informed by MGM Records that her contract would be discontinued after her last solo single.
Francis considered a career in medicine and was about to accept a four-year scholarship offered at New York University. At what was to have been her final recording session for MGM on October 2, 1957, she recorded a cover version of the 1923 song "Who's Sorry Now?", written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Francis has said that she recorded it at the persistence of her father, who was convinced it stood a chance of becoming a hit because it was a song adults already knew and that teenagers would dance to if it had a contemporary arrangement.
Francis, who did not like the song at all and had been arguing about it with her father heatedly, delayed the recording of the three other songs during the session so much, that in her opinion there was no time left on the continuously running recording tape. But her father insisted, and when the recording "Who's Sorry Now?" was finished, there were only a few seconds left on the tape.
The single seemed to go unnoticed like all previous releases - just as Francis had predicted. But on January 1, 1958, the song debuted on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. By mid-year, over a million copies had been sold, and Francis was suddenly launched into worldwide stardom. In April 1958, "Who's Sorry Now" reached # 1 on the UK Singles Chart and # 4 in the US. For the next four years, Francis was voted the "Best Female Vocalist" by American Bandstand viewers.
As Connie Francis explains at each of her concerts, she began searching for a new hit immediately after the success of "Who's Sorry Now?", since MGM Records had renewed her contract. After the relative failure of the follow-up singles "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" (which stalled at No. 36) and "Heartaches" (failing to chart at all), Francis met with Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield who sang a number of ballads they had written for her. After a few hours, Francis began writing in her diary while the songwriters played the last of their ballads. Afterwards, Francis told them that she considered their ballads too intellectual and sophisticated for the young generation and requested a more lively song. Greenfield urged Sedaka to sing a song they had written that morning with The Shepherd Sisters in mind. Sedaka protested that Francis would be insulted, but Greenfield said that since she hated all the other songs they had performed, they had nothing to lose. Sedaka played "Stupid Cupid". When he finished, Francis announced that he had just played her new hit record. The song reached # 14 on the Billboard chart and was her second # 1 in the UK.
The success of "Stupid Cupid" restored momentum to Francis' chart career, and she reached the U.S. top 40 an additional seven times during the remainder of the 1950s. She managed to churn out more hits by covering several older songs, such as "My Happiness" (# 2 on the Hot 100) and "Among My Souvenirs" (# 7), as well as performing her own original songs. In 1959, she gained two gold records for a double-sided hit: on the A-side, "Lipstick on Your Collar" (# 5); on the B-side, "Frankie" (# 9).
1959-1973: International recording star edit:
Following another idea of her father, Francis traveled to London in August 1959 to record an Italian album at EMI's famous Abbey Road Studios, entitled "Connie Francis sings Italian Favorites".
The album was released in November 1959. Soon afterwards it entered the album charts where it remained for 81 weeks, peaking at # 4. It remains to this day as Francis' most successful album release. The subsequent single culled from this album, "Mama", reached # 8 in the United States and # 2 in the United Kingdom.
Following this success, Francis recorded seven more albums of "Favorites" between 1960 and 1964, including Jewish, German and Irish Favorites, among others. These albums would mark Francis' transition from the youth-oriented Rock 'n' Roll music to adult contemporary music, which George Franconero, Sr. had realized to be necessary if his daughter wanted to pursue a successful longtime career in music.
Nevertheless, Francis would continue to record singles which aimed at the youth-oriented market. Among her Top Ten hits on the Hot 100 were "Breakin' in a Brand New Broken Heart" (1961, # 7), "When the Boy in Your Arms (Is the Boy in Your Heart)" (1961, # 10), "Second Hand Love" (1962, # 9), and "Where the Boys Are" (1961, # 4). The latter became her signature tune and was also the theme song of Francis first motion picture of the same name. The movie also introduced the concept of spring break as the once sleepy town of Fort Lauderdale became the hotspot for college students on their spring vacation in the wake of the movie's success. Although she appeared in three further motion pictures on the silver screen, Francis was never satisfied with herself as an actress, and after appearing in a made-for-television movie in 1966, she declined further offers.
The success of "Connie Francis sings Italian Favorites" in late 1959/early 1960 led to the fact that Francis was one of the first American artists to record in other languages regularly. She was to be followed by other major British and American recording stars including Wanda Jackson, Cliff Richard, Petula Clark, Brenda Lee, The Supremes, Peggy March, Pat Boone, Lesley Gore, The Beatles and even Johnny Cash, among many others. In her autobiography, Francis mentioned that in the early years of her career the language barrier in certain European countries made it difficult for her songs to get airplay, especially in Germany. She explained that Germany's most popular singer, Freddy Quinn, often sold two to three million records per song, equivalent to about twelve million in the United States.
Francis used these reflections as the basis for her April 1960 recording, "Everybody's Somebody's Fool". Although this single became her first # 1 on the US charts (immediately followed by her second # 1, "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own"), and its B-side "Jealous of you (Tango della Gelosia)" became a huge hit in Italy, it failed to make any impression on the German charts.
Veteran lyricist Ralph Maria Siegel penned a set of German lyrics, named "Die Liebe ist ein seltsames Spiel", which, after some friction between Francis herself and her MGM executives, was recorded and released. The song peaked at No. 1 in Germany for two weeks, as it did in many other countries and Francis would have six more # 1 hits on the German charts.
Contrary to popular belief, Francis did not record any further foreign language versions of "Everybody's Somebody's Fool". The German version is the only one recorded by herself although other artists recorded further cover versions in various languages such as Portuguese, Swedish, or even Finnish.
It was not until her # 7 on the US charts, "Many Tears Ago", later in 1960 when Francis began to record cover versions of her own songs in foreign languages besides German. Over the following years, she would eventually expand her recording portfolio up to 15 languages.
She also sang in Romanian during a live performance at the 1970 edition of the Cerbul de Aur in Braşov, Romania.
Francis was not fluent in all of these languages and she had to learn her foreign language songs phonetically. Francis explained in a 1961 television interview that she was fluent in Spanish and Italian, but always had a translator nearby to make sure her translated lyrics and especially her pronunciation were as grammatically correct as possible.
In the wake of "Die Liebe ist ein seltsames Spiel", Francis enjoyed her greatest successes outside the United States. During the 1960s, her songs not only topped the charts in numerous countries around the world, but she was also voted the # 1 singer in over ten countries. In 1960, she was named the most popular artist in Europe, the first time a non-European received this honor. From mid-1961 to mid-1963, Radio Luxembourg closed each day's broadcasts with "It's Time to Say Goodnight", a song Francis had recorded especially for this purpose and which was never officially released until 1996.
Francis' enduring popularity overseas led to her having television specials in numerous countries around the world, such as England, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Even at the height of the Cold War, Francis' music was well received in Iron Curtain countries, and some of her recordings were made available on state-owned record labels such as Melodiya in the former Soviet Union and on Jugoton in former Yugoslavia, although it was common knowledge that rock n' roll was highly looked down upon in Eastern bloc countries.
In the US, Connie Francis had a third number one hit in 1962: "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You", and her immense success led MGM to give her complete freedom to choose whichever songs she wanted to record.
Francis' first autobiographical book, For Every Young Heart, was published in 1963. On July 3 that same year, she played a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland. During the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, Connie Francis performed for U.S. troops. Francis recalls this story frequently during the intro to God Bless America at her live concerts.
Due to changing trends in the early and mid-1960s, namely the British Invasion, Francis' chart success on Billboard's Hot 100 began to wane after 1963. She had her final top-ten hit, "Vacation", in 1962. A number of Francis singles continued to reach the top 40 in the U.S. Hot 100 through the mid-1960s, with her last top 40 entry being 1964's "Be Anything (but Be Mine)". Despite her declining success on the Hot 100, Francis remained a top concert draw, and her singles - now following a more mature style - were charting on the top quarter of Billboard's Adult Contemporary (AC) Charts and sometimes even reached Billboard's Country Charts. Therefore, Francis enjoyed lasting chart success in the US until her contract with MGM Records ran out in 1969.
In 1965, Connie Francis participated in that year's edition of the annual San Remo Festival, where she and her team partner Gigliola Cinquetti presented "Ho bisgono di vederti", which finished on # 5 of the final ranking.
Main article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_bisogno_di_vederti
Francis returned to San Remo in 1967 to present "Canta Ragazzina" with her team partner Bobby Solo, but didn't reach the finals. In the US, however, "Time Alone Will Tell", Francis' cover version of San Remo's 1967 winning entry "Non pensare a me" which had been presented by Iva Zanicchi and Gino Paoli, peaked at # 94 on Billboard's Hot 100 and at # 14 on Billboard's AC charts.
Francis' popularity outside of the United States helped to maintain her career, even when her hits were struggling on Billboard's Hot 100 in her home country. She continued to have chart hits into the 1970s in some countries and, even to this day, she remains very popular in European countries, even though she no longer records or appears as frequently as she used to do.
In late 1969, Francis' contract with MGM Records ran out and she decided not to commit herself any further to her longtime record company, weary from almost fifteen years of uninterrupted recording, live appearances, television and motion picture work, and travelling. From 1970 until 1973, Francis lived in semi-retirement, appearing only occasionally as a special guest on TV shows.
In 1973, Francis returned to the recording studio, cutting "(Should I) Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?", b/w "Paint the Rain" on GSF Records. This answer song to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" by Tony Orlando & Dawn would "bubble" under the charts. The project of recording a German version, though, remained unfinished. Another 1973 single, "I Don't Want to Walk Without You", b/w "Don't Turn Around", on Ivanhoe Records, failed to chart.
1974-1981: Tragedy and return edit:
After her modest success with "(Should I) Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?" Francis began performing regularly again. While appearing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York, on November 8, 1974, Francis was raped at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson's Lodge and nearly suffocated to death under the weight of a heavy mattress the culprit had thrown upon her. She subsequently sued the motel chain for failing to provide adequate security and reportedly won a $2.5 million judgment, at the time one of the largest such judgments in history, leading to a reform in hotel security. Her rapist was never found.
In 1977, Francis underwent nasal surgery and completely lost her voice. She went through several more operations and even when she got her voice back, she was forced to take vocal lessons, something she had never done before.
In 1978, Francis returned to the recording studio to cut an album entitled "Who's Happy Now?". The leading recording on this album was a disco version of "Where the Boys Are". She would record this song also in Japanese, Italian, and Spanish as she had done before with her original 1960 version. Several songs from the "Who's Happy Now?" sessions were subsequently recorded in Italian, Spanish, Japanese and German. The Spanish and German recordings became albums of their own in as "Connie Francis en Español" in Spain and as "Was ich bin" in Germany. All three albums and the singles culled from them were released on United Artists Records.
Francis returned to the recording studio in 1981 to cut "Comme ci, comme ça", and "I'm Me Again". The latter became the title track of a subsequent album which featured the aforementioned new songs as well as previously unreleased material from the 1950s and 1960s. "I'm Me Again" became Francis' last single to chart on the AC charts. Both the single and the album were Francis' last original releases ever on MGM Records before Polydor - which bought the label in 1976 - put MGM into defunction in 1982.
1981-1988: More tragedy edit:
Another tragedy in Francis' life was the killing of her brother George Franconero, Jr., with whom she was very close, by Mafia hitmen in 1981.
Despite this new tragedy, she took up live performing again, even gracing the American Bandstand 30th Anniversary Special Episode and appearing in the town where she had been raped. But Francis' new-found success was short-lived, as she was diagnosed with manic depression, which brought her career to a stop for a further four years, during which she was committed to a total of seventeen hospitals. Francis admitted that she nearly committed suicide because these hospitals were extremely depressing.
Nevertheless, in 1984 Francis was able to write and present her published autobiography, Who's Sorry Now?, which became a New York Times bestseller. However, despite the fact that her 1982 recording "There's Still a Few Good Love Songs Left in Me" brought Francis her last notation on the country charts, several songs never made it beyond the status of being recorded. Many songs from that time, such as Francis' versions of classics such as "Speak Softly, Love" and "Break It to Me Gently," and original songs such as "Blue Orleans" are still awaiting their official first-time release.
1989-present: Later career edit:
In 1989, Connie Francis resumed her recording and performing career again. For Malaco Records, Francis recorded a double album entitled "Where the Hits Are", containing re-recordings of eighteen of her biggest hits as well as six classics of yesteryear Francis had always wanted to record, such as "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", or "Torn Between Two Lovers".
In 1992, a medley of remixed versions of her biggest German hits charted in Germany. This single, entitled "Jive, Connie", ended up among the Top Ten Best Selling Singles of the year, which brought Connie Francis the prestigious R.SH-Gold award for the "Best Comeback of the Year" from R.SH (short for "Radio Schleswig-Holstein"), back then one of Germany's most important private radio stations. A subsequent compilation album of her biggest German hits in their original versions was also released successfully. In the wake of this, Francis recorded two duets for the German Herzklang label (a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment) with Peter Kraus with whom she had already worked several times in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A German language solo album was supposed to follow on Herzklang but despite all songs being recorded and mixed, the album remains unreleased to this day.
In 1995, Francis recorded "The Return Concert", a live album which was released on Legacy Recordings.
1996 saw the release of "With Love To Buddy", a tribute album of songs made famous by the late Buddy Holly. Although this album continues to be re-released under various names on countless low budget labels, "With Love To Buddy" remains as Francis' last original release as of October 2011. At infrequent intervals, though, Francis releases Compact disc albums and EPs in limited quantities on her own label Concetta Records, containing previously unreleased material from her private archives.
In late December 2004, Francis headlined in Las Vegas for the first time since 1989. In March and October 2007, Francis performed to sold-out crowds at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. She appeared in concert in Manila, the Philippines, on Valentine's Day 2008.
In 2010, she also appeared at the Las Vegas Hilton with Dionne Warwick, a show billed as "Eric Floyd's Grand Divas of Stage".
Francis continues to appear live on stage to this day (as of November 2011).
Singing style and stage presence edit:
Connie Francis is best known for her downbeat ballads for which she has developed a trademark sobbing, emotive style. On stage, Francis illustrates her passionate performances by using impressive gestures.
Musical genres edit:
While her singles were mostly kept in the then-current sounds of the day such as Rock And Roll, novelty songs, the Twist, torch ballads, or the Girl Group Sound created by Brill Building alumni Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, Francis' albums represented her in a variety of styles, ranging in everything from R&B, vocal jazz and country to Broadway standards, children's music, waltzes, spiritual music, Schlager music, Traditionals from various ethnic groups represented in the US and select songs from popular songwriters of the day, such as Burt Bacharach & Hal David, or Les Reed.