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Frank Sinatra with President Richard Nixon, First Lady Pat Nixon, and Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti after Sinatra’s East Room performance at a State Dinner on April 17, 1973.

Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Throughout his legendary music career, Frank Sinatra performed several times at the White House. On April 17, 1973, Sinatra performed at a State Dinner for Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy. President Nixon introduced Sinatra as “a man whose parents were born in Italy but yet from humble beginnings went to the very top in entertainment.” The singer was so stirred by the ovation he received that he was moved to tears. That night Sinatra sang many of his hits including Josef Myrow and Mack Gordon’s “You Make Me Feel So Young”; Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon”; and Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “I’ve Got the World on a String.” Sinatra took the evening’s dinner menu, his place card, and matchbook as souvenirs.1

Sinatra, along with Perry Como, performed at another Italian State Dinner, this time on March 25, 1982, in honor of Italian President Alessandro Pertini. Barbara Sinatra, Frank’s wife, wore a green, white, and red dress, calling them her “Italian colors.” After the musical performance, guests, including San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana crowded the stage requesting autographs. Before signing, Sinatra humorously said to Montana, “Oh Joe, are you kidding?”2

Later that year, Frank Sinatra sang with First Lady Nancy Reagan at the “To Love a Child” event. Hosted on the South Lawn of the White House, this event promoted the Foster Grandparent program, emblematic of the many causes First Lady Nancy Reagan embraced in support of young people across the country. Sinatra, accompanied by the D.C. City-Wide Chorus, performed the specially written song “To Love a Child.” One of the foster grandparents at the event remarked before Sinatra came on that “I can’t wait to see ol’ blue eyes. . . He sure can sing.”3

First Lady Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra sing at the “To Love a Child” event at the White House on October 19, 1982.

White House Historical Association

On June 18, 1984, Frank Sinatra also performed at a State Dinner in honor of President Junius Jayewardene of Sri Lanka. During his remarks, President Jayewardene remarked he was looking forward to hearing Sinatra sing “My Way,” one of the Sri Lankan president’s favorite songs. 4

At the White House on May 23, 1985, President Ronald Reagan awarded Sinatra with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At the ceremony, President Reagan said that Sinatra’s “love of country, his generosity toward those less fortunate, his distinctive art, and his winning and passionate persona make him one of our most remarkable and distinguished Americans.” 5

Sinatra was also influential in the selection of other performing artists at the White House. His friendship with President and Mrs. Reagan and his connections in the music industry allowed him to serve at times as a point of contact when scheduling White House performances. 6

Upon Sinatra’s death on May 14, 1998, President William J. Clinton remarked, “Frank Sinatra will be missed profoundly by millions around the world. But his music and movies will ensure that "Ol' Blue Eyes" is never forgotten. Today I think every American would have to smile and say he really did do it his way.” 7

Left to Right: President Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, First Lady Nancy Reagan, and Perry Como in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 1982, following a State Dinner in honor of President Alessandro Pertini of Italy.

White House Historical Association

This article was originally published August 4, 2016

Footnotes & Resources

  1. Betty Beale, “A Sinatra Smash,” Evening Star, April 18, 1973, 78. Donnie Radcliffe, “The World on His String,” The Washington Post, April 18, 1973, B1.
  2. Lois Romano and Donnie Radcliffe, “Roman’s Holiday,” The Washington Post, March 26, 1982.
  3. “First Lady, Frank launch ‘Love’,” Washington Times, October 20, 1982, 13.
  4. Ronald Reagan: "Toasts of President Reagan and President J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka at the State Dinner ," June 18, 1984. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
  5. Ronald Reagan: "Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom ," May 23, 1985. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
  6. Elise K. Kirk, Music at the White House: A History of the American Spirit (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 355.
  7. William J. Clinton: "Statement on the Death of Frank Sinatra," May 15, 1998. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

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