Her music transcended boundaries that entrenched most of her contemporaries
as she moved easily from pop to country-western, big band and Broadway
sounds. More surprisingly, from the beginning she has been known for recording
and performing in a number of languages.
A recent exclusive MyBestYear.com interview started from the springboard of
performing in all those languages.
MBY: The one thing everybody seems to want to know about Connie Francis is how you
became known for performing in so many different languages…
CF: It came from my father. I learned Italian songs on the concertina when I was three
years old. It just continued from there. When I was ten years old, I remember doing a show,
Tony Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow, at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. We did four shows a day.
One day Tony said, “The next show you do, I want you to play the accordion and sing this.”
He gave me two records. I said, “What’s this?” He said, “One is Spanish, and one is
French.” I said, “But I don’t know how to speak Spanish or French.” He said, “Okay, Stupid
(that was his middle name for me), just play the records and write down whatever you hear,
and that’s what you sing.” Eventually I learned to speak Spanish and Italian, and I’ve
recorded songs in thirteen languages. It all started when I was very young. I just seemed to
have an ear for it.
MBY: Looking back, how traumatic was it when you were told that you needed to change
your name and stop playing the accordion—both such important parts of your life up to
CF: Believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t traumatic to leave the accordion behind. The
accordion died during a flood in our basement during 1959, and I had a party that night. I
hated the accordion! All Italian girls seemed to have fathers who played that instrument
and wanted their daughters to play the accordion, too. But I hated it. When Arthur Godfrey
suggested that I not play it anymore and concentrate on just singing, it was my lucky day.
Changing my name was another story.
MBY: In addition to suggesting that you drop the instrument, wasn't Arthur Godfrey also
instrumental in changing your name?
CF: I was twelve years old when I first auditioned for him. He used to have lots of kids on
the show, especially during the Christmas season. I did the show and he asked, “How do
you pronounce your name again, little girl?” I said, “FRANK-oh-NEAR-oh.” He said, “That’s
a toughie. Why don’t we give you a good ole, easy-to-say Irish name like…let’s see…what
about Francis…Connie Francis?” I said, “Please, Mr. Godfrey. My father will have a fit! Can
you just call me Connie Franconero for tonight and tomorrow, and I’ll be Connie Francis
after that?” He chuckled and said, “You got it, kid!”
She attended Newark Arts High School while continuing to perform, then in 1955
Connie’s first single, "Freddy,” was released. It met with little success, yet that
inauspicious beginning formed a foundation for future career choices.
MBY: With “Freddy,” everything was going to be different, but the success didn’t come
quickly. Were there ever times, especially during those early years, where you said, “Okay,
this isn’t working out. I’m going to get a job as a waitress and chuck it all.”
CF: I never really wanted to do anything else, but there came a time when I had to think of
doing something else. At seventeen, I signed a ten-record contract with MGM and
recorded eighteen bombs. Finally, on what was supposed to be my last record with MGM,
“Who’s Sorry Now?” came along. Dick Clark picked it up on his desk one day, played it on
January 1, 1958, and he played it until it sold a million copies. At that point I was prepared
to either go to my aunt’s office and learn shorthand and typing, or to accept a scholarship I
had received to study medicine at New York University.
MBY: Major choices…yet all of a sudden it changed because of Dick Clark. Can you wrap
your mind around the fact that “Who’s Sorry Now?” happened fifty years ago?
CF: No, I can’t. I was born in the late Thirties. Fifty years before that was the 1880s. Fifty
years seemed like such a long, long time ago back then. Now 1958 and all that happened
then seems like yesterday to me.
Suddenly an avalanche of public
acclaim descended. The song
debuted on Dick Clark’s American
Bandstand television show and
quickly sold over a million copies,
eventually reaching number four on
the U.S. pop charts and number one
MBY: After the years of preparation and
hoping and dreaming and performing,
then reaching the time when you were
actually thinking of going another
direction, all of a sudden you were thrust into the big BIG time. You definitely weren’t an
overnight success, yet to fans around the world, you were. How did that feel?
CF: It was a dream world! Even though I should have been more prepared, it was truly
beyond anything I could comprehend. Frankly, I appreciated it only in retrospect.
MBY: What do you mean?
CF: At the time it was so overwhelming.
You just can’t imagine how much your life
changes. The schedules were so frenetic.
I didn’t have time to realize how wonderful
it was. I truly enjoyed it, but you were
focused on doing the next tour, recording
the next album, getting the next hit,
meeting the right people…it’s hard to
keep perspective when you are in the
eye of the hurricane.
MBY: Like the stars today?
CF: Probably like the stars of any era. It’s just that rock and roll was such a new
phenomenon then. All of a sudden, within a very short time, Elvis burst onto the scene.
Buddy Holly. So many more. They went from being known only in a small region to being
loved worldwide. Our music exploded in the same way. There really wasn’t anything to
compare it to. Everything was so different than any time in the past, and almost all of us
were very young.
MBY: Is the lack of perspective and frenetic schedule because you think it will last forever,
or because you are afraid it is a fluke and you will end up being just another one-hit
CF: For me, even though I enjoyed it so much after all the years of getting ready for that
moment, I had always heard, “Everything good always comes to an end.” I just wanted to
keep running as hard as I could and trying to make it last as long as possible.
As Francis explains in her concerts, the over-
whelming success of “Who’s Sorry Now?” led to
the immediate rush to find a follow-up song.
Thankfully, that search led to two amazing
MBY: What happened when you first got together with
Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, and how important
is that chapter in the Connie Francis story?
CF: The first time we met, I think they played every ballad
they had written. After a few hours and they finished their
last song of the session, I told them that the ballads were
so beautiful, but I wasn’t sure if they would be right for
young people. Howard then suggested to Neil that they
should play a new song they had just written for a girl
group. As soon as Neil finished going through “Stupid
Cupid,” I told them, “You just played my next hit.”
“Stupid Cupid” jumped up the charts. More importantly, it established a powerful
relationship between the soon-to-be legendary songwriters and singer. Sedaka
and Greenfield would write many of her future hits.
MBY: What is the story about Neil’s own first hit that came out of that meeting when he and
Howard Greenfield pitched “Stupid Cupid”?
CF: (laughs her distinctive chuckle) While they were pitching songs, I started writing in my
diary. Neil asked if he could read what I had written. Of course I said, “No!” We had a good
laugh. After the session was over and they finally played “Stupid Cupid,” Neil went on to
write “The Diary,” which became his first hit single.
Connie’s recordings often featured her trademark “sobbing” style (from “My
Happiness” to “Second Hand Love,” “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry,” “Among My
Souvenirs,” and “Many Tears Ago”) but her upbeat rock and roll songs (from
"Lipstick on Your Collar" to "Robot Man" and "Vacation") also brought new
waves of popularity. Acceptance of her varied hits led to an opportunity to record
a wide-range of musical styles.
MBY: Even though you were pegged more as a rock and roll star, it was apparent even
during the early years that you had a country music soul, as well.
CF: I love country music. I always have.
MBY: Even in your rocking-est songs and certainly in your ballads, there always seems to
be a country heart shining through, which seems interesting for someone from Newark,
New Jersey. Is that something that you always felt?
CF: Again, as with singing in different languages, that was directly influenced by my dad.
Aside from Dick Clark who made my career, my father was the most influential person in my
career. And he loved country music. When I was just a child, he often switched the radio to
a disc jockey named Paul Brenner from the Newark area. I remember saying, “Daddy, this
is Ozark hillbilly stuff! Please, I can’t stand listening to it.” He just laughed and said, “When
they get smart enough to add strings, this is what’s gonna be on the charts.” He was
absolutely right. Look how so many country singers were all over the popular music charts
through the Fifties and Sixties.
MBY: So doing country was something you learned very young…
CF: Definitely. Right after my first hits, I went to Nashville and recorded Country And
Western Golden Hits, which was released November 1959.
MBY: That had to be a different experience for the New Jersey girl who had been recording
in New York, London and Los Angeles.
CF: It was quite an experience. Floyd Cramer was there playing piano as only he could do.
The Jordanaires and Anita Kerr Singers did back-up vocals. Jerry Kennedy played guitar.
There were so many musicians there. It was amazing!
MBY: What was the major difference?
CF: So many didn’t read a note of music, which turned out to be so wonderful. Everybody
just gathered around the music stand, read the number charts and suddenly this sound
came directly from the heart of the hollers of West Virginia, the piney-woods of the
Carolinas, the cotton fields of the Deep South and the plains of Texas. Everyone brought
such a deep understanding of the soul of music. It was something to behold. It was such an
incredible experience. I ended up recording six albums in Nashville.
MBY: That shines through in so much of your music, even for people who had no idea that
you recorded some of your greatest albums in Nashville.
CF: I loved it there, but I also loved recording other places, too. There was so much you
could learn by getting with different musicians in a variety of places. That’s why I never
stayed in one place.
MBY: Where are some of the other places you recorded through the years?
CF: In addition to New Jersey, New York and Nashville that I already mentioned, I enjoyed
working in California, Muscle Shoals, Vienna, Germany, Italy, England…all over the world.
MBY: You were definitely different from the artists who chose to stick with one producer,
one group of musicians and one recording studio.
CF: It seemed to work better that way for me.
Connie’s worldwide acclaim
spiraled through her records in
English, Greek, German,
Swedish, Dutch, French,
Spanish, Portuguese, Italian
(and the Neapolitan dialect),
Hebrew, Yiddish, Japanese,
Latin and Hawaiian.
At the same time, her horizons
continued to expand through
motion pictures such as Where
the Boys Are (1960), Follow the
Boys (1963), Looking for Love
(1964) and When the Boys Meet
the Girls (1965).
MBY: Let’s talk about the next step.
You started charting with hit after hit.
One of the first thing for many stars
of the day—from Elvis to Jimmy
Clanton, Chuck Berry and LaVern
Baker—was the call from Hollywood.
You ended up doing several well-
received movies. When it happened
for you, was it something you always
CF: Truthfully, I hated doing movies.
To me it was an interruption to
making music, recording, traveling,
doing Vegas and the Copa. To me it was three to six months of hurry-up-and-wait. Some
people really like the experience and process of making a motion picture. I didn’t. Even
though I could pick out the scripts I wanted, I was very uninterested in making films. As a
result, I made no effort to make good movies. It was a shame, because I had the ability,
contractually, to pick good scripts and to choose the director I wanted. I just didn’t take
advantage of it. It was a big mistake on my part, and the movies show it. I remember that
the second movie, Follow the Boys, was about girls who followed their sweetheart sailors
from port to port, and one of the critics said, “In my opinion, this is the biggest naval
disaster since Pearl Harbor!” Unfortunately, it was true. And the next ones weren’t much
It was understandable that Connie
Francis yearned to focus on her
music. By 1960, she became the
youngest headliner (to that point)
to sing in Las Vegas (playing 28
days a year for the next nine
years). She starred in her own 1961
television special, Kicking Sound
Around (an ABC production also
starring Tab Hunter, Eddie Foy Jr.
and Art Carney). That was followed
by the famous episode of the Ed
Sullivan Show, taped at the Moulin
Rouge nightclub in Paris, France
(July 1, 1962), and the Command
Performance before Queen Elizabeth II at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow,
Scotland (July 3, 1963). During the height of the conflict in Southeast Asia, Connie
traveled in 1967 to perform for U.S. troops in Vietnam.
From the late Fifties to the late Sixties, Connie charted 35 Top 40 hits in the
United States (including three that went to Number One—“Everybody’s
Somebody’s Fool” and “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” in 1960; “Don't Break the
Heart That Loves You” in 1962), plus numerous chartbusters around the world.
MBY: Through all the success, there were numerous heartbreaks you went through—the
marriages, the infamous 1974 rape in the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson’s Lodge
following a performance at the Westbury Music Fair, the lawsuits, surgeries, your brother’s
murder in 1981, and the bipolar disorder diagnosis, drug abuse and suicide attempts.
You've gone through enough challenges to kill ten people. How did you keep going?
CF: One thing that has helped is that I have always tried to make it a practice not to take
myself too seriously. During any kind of crisis, I was able to keep my sense of humor. I
grew up with a mother and father who were so hilarious they should have had their own
television series. My brother had the same kind of sense of humor. It really did keep me
going when things bottomed out.
MBY: How about the fans?
CF: I can’t tell you how important the fans have been through the years. I would get
thousands and thousands of letters from fans. They were so inspirational. Honestly, most
people in life don’t have that kind of help, and that made me doubly thankful for the
response and constant feedback from the public. It was wonderful! It kept me going and
inspired me to get up each time I got knocked down. In the process I really did find that it
doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up that
MBY: Is that what keeps you so excited about life today?
CF: I really am more excited than ever. Singer Gloria Estefan and I have completed a
screenplay for a movie based on my life, titled Who's Sorry Now? Gloria plans to produce
and play the lead. I’m an executive producer and will be on the set every day.
MBY: That’s got to be fulfilling.
CF: It really is. I think every day there is something to look forward to. It’s that way in life,
and it is certainly true in show business. Something new can happen every day if you are
open to the possibilities.
MBY: MyBestYears.com is focused on men and women over fifty who are excited about
becoming older, wiser, healthier and better. What do you do that keeps you focused on
CF: I have a statement that I always keep in mind: Yesterday is a cancelled check,
tomorrow is a promissory note, and only today is cash!
To some people, Connie Francis will always be locked in a time
capsule singing her sobbing tales of woe. Other will remember
the catchy rock and roll tunes. Still others continue to see her
as not only an extremely talented vocalist, but also a beautiful,
stylish, glamorous visual treat. Connie's interpretation of music
is seasoned and meticulous, enabling her to remain one of the
most popular international entertainers of this century.
Regardless, she continues to deliver flawless performance after
flawless performance with authentic power. It is hard to
underestimate the talents of this beautiful Italian girl who grew
up to become America's (and the world's) Sweetheart of Song.
As Connie reflects on the spectacular success of her career as well as the
devastating tragedies of her life, she states, “I would like to be known not for the
heights I have reached, but for the depths from which I have risen.” And to her
fans Connie says, “A big enormous `thank you' for hanging in there.”
Connie Francis, born Concetta Rosa Maria
Franconero in Newark, New Jersey, arguably one
of the world’s best-known hit-makers of 1950s
and 1960s rock and roll, has spent most of her life
in a surrealistic world of glaring spotlights,
intense scrutiny and fanfare.
Known through the years for her powerhouse
voice, her smash hits—from “Who’s Sorry Now?”
to “Stupid Cupid” and “Where the Boys Are”—
helped define an entire generation of young
...America's Sweetheart of Song
|Sharing a Magic Moment...Bobby Darin,
Connie Francis and Ed Sullivan
|The Jimmie Rodgers Show
(ABC Television 1969)