Francis, Connie (Contemporary Musicians)
Pop singer Connie Francis was America's top-selling female recording artist during the late 1950s and early '60s. Between 1958 and 1964 she recorded more than 50 chart singles, including "Who's Sorry Now," "My Happiness," and "Everybody's Somebody's Fool." The diminutive young singer with the big, clear voice became a teenage idol, lending her name to sweaters, charm bracelets, diaries, and other adolescent essentials; by the time she was 22 her appeal had extended to films, where she starred in such young-adult favorites as Where the Boys Are and When the Boys Meet the Girls. Of the former, however, Francis revealed to People in 1992, "I hated Where the Boys Are. I didn't like the way I looked. I didn't like the way I acted."
Tragically, like her prodigious success, Francis's decline was dramatic and profound, marked by a descent into mental illness that began when she was raped in a Westbury, New York, hotel room in 1974. Performing sporadically after that, the entertainer spent the ensuing years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, teetering precariously between wellness and crippling relapse. It is was not until the early 1990s that Francis reclaimed her health and returned to singing. Talking to Kathryn Casey in the Ladies' Home Journal, she revealed that performing, in fact, may be her best medicine: "I relax only when I'm in front of an audience," she related. "It's the only time I really know who Connie Francis is."
Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in 1938, the only daughter of an Italian-American working-class couple. Her father was a natural entertainer who loved playing his concertina at gatherings; he consigned his unfulfilled career ambitions to his daughter early, sending her to music school for accordion lessons by the time she was three years old. Concetta's strong, tuneful voice showed even more promise, and her father sought out every opportunityodge celebrations, community events, church socialsor his daughter to perform.
By 1950 the young singer and accordionist had won first place on Arthur Godfrey's national television show Talent Scouts/ was Godfrey who suggested she change her name to Connie Francisnd that year she also became a weekly performer on Startime, a youth-oriented television variety program. There she remained for four years, becoming a veteran television performer; still, by the time she was 16 her managers knew that her days as a youth entertainer were numbered. So, with the help of a forged identity card, Francis began to sing at clubs and lounges and made a number of demo tapes in hopes of landing a recording contract.
MGM Records signed Francis in 1955. During the next two years she recorded ten singles that went nowhere; these, along with her failed auditions for radio and television shows and stage musicals, convinced the teenager to abandon performing and accept a scholarship in radio and television production offered by New York University. With one disc left on her MGM agreement, Francis recorded "Who's Sorry Now," a 1923 favorite of her father'sacked, this time, with a gentle rock and roll beat. The single was a blockbuster hit, a million-dollar seller; after "Who's Sorry" it seemed that every song Francis touched turned to gold.
Over the next six years the singer had 35 Top 40 hits (numbers surpassed at that time only by soul legend Aretha Franklin), including "Lipstick on Your Collar," "Mama," "Frankie," and "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own." While several of these hits were uptempo revivals of pop standards from her father's generationAmong My Souvenirs" and "Together," for example, were written in 1928thers came from contemporary young songwriters like Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield.
In great demand as a concert and television performer, Francis began to appear at major clubs across the country, had her own one-hour television special, and even wrote an advice book for her legions of teenage fans. The singer was also enormously popular abroad, particularly in Italy and Spain, where she recorded in the native languages. Ethnic collections like Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites, Connie Francis Sings Spanish and Latin American Favorites, and Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites were among her most successful albums.
With the arrival of the Beatles, in 1964, Francis's star dimmed, her conversational, pseudo-rock and roll style yielding to different tastes. Still, she retained a large following and continued to perform and record well into the 1970s. After appearing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York on November 8, 1974, Francis was robbed and raped at knife point in her hotel room and left tied to a chair under a pile of mattresses. While her attacker was never found, the singer won a $2.5 million settlement in a suit charging the hotel with negligence.
Afraid to leave her home after the trauma, Francis grew despondent. In 1977 plastic surgery to reshape her nose temporarily damaged her voice, adding to her despair. After her younger brother, a lawyer, was killed in a mafia-style slaying in 1981, the singer's equilibrium began to seriously waver. Francis's several failed marriages, two miscarriages, stormy relationship with her domineering father, and the pressures of stardom heaped on her since childhood weighed heavily on her.
Francis enjoyed a comeback in 1981, but this upturn would go unfulfilled; her father committed her to a psychiatric hospital, against her will, in 1983. The singer was diagnosed as manic-depressive, but once released, failed to regularly take the medication prescribed to correct this chemical imbalance. Throughout the 1980s Francis's life was plagued by stormy highs and abysmal lows: She was arrested for punching her hairdresser, refusing to extinguish a cigarette while on a refueling jet, and threatening a police officer with a broken glass; she attempted suicide by swallowing a handful of sleeping pills, underwent shock treatments for depression, and suffered from paranoid delusions. Francis confided to Ladies'Home Journal's Casey that, at one time, she even thought she was the target of a White House plot or that she was the Holy Spirit. Finally, a new drug therapynd the singer's long-overdue realization of the essentiality of her medicationet her on the road to recovery.
Back on the singing circuit, Francis once again performed before capacity crowds, her audiences filled with middle-aged fans who had not forgotten their former favorite. With her act delivering a generous dose of hit songs from the past, Francis and her followerst least for a short whilelady relived memories of more carefree times.
(With Barbara Perlman and Sandra Constantinople) For Every Young Heart: Connie Francis Talks to Teenagers, Prentice-Hall, 1962.
Who's Sorry Now (autobiography), St. Martin's, 1984.
Singles; on MGM Records
"Who's Sorry Now," 1958.
"My Happiness," 1959.
"Lipstick on Your Collar," 1959.
"Among My Souvenirs," 1959.
"Everybody's Somebody's Fool"/"Jealous of You," 1960. "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own," 1960.
"Many Tears Ago," 1960.
"Where the Boys Are," 1961.
"Don't Break the Heart That Loves You," 1962.
Christmas in My Heart, Polydor, 1987.
Rocksides (recorded 1957-64), Polydor, 1988.
The Very Best of Connie Francis, volume 2, Polydor, 1988.
Tourist in Paradise, Liberty, 1992.
The Very Best of Connie Francis, Polydor.
Where the Hits Are. PolyGram.
Connie Francis: Greatest Hits, PolyGram.
Connie Francis: Greatest Italian Hits, PolyGram.
Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites.
Connie Francis Sings Spanish and Latin American Favorites.
Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites.
The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Donald Clarke, Viking, 1989.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Páreles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.
Ladies' Home Journal, July 1992.
Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1985.
People, July 27, 1992.
Variety, June 7, 1989.