Sunflower, the Thorn in Frank Sinatra’s Career

Every time someone mentions Frank Sinatra‘s name, we play in our heads hit songs like “My Way”, “Mama Will Bark” or “Fly Me to the Moon”. We know the lyrics and we know the rhythm, right? No wonder. We’ve all heard The Voice (as Sinatra was also known) on the radio at least once. Around the world, the artist continues to be remembered as a brand for the America’s swing era.

However, there are some thorns on Frank Sinatra‘s career and, among them, a sunflower. Yes, a sunflower, one of those flowers that moves in accordance to the sun’s position. But, as you may know, sunflowers don’t have thorns… except the Sinatra’s song “Sunflower”, which marked negatively his career and, two decades later after its release, costed a fortune to an innocent man.

Even though it wasn’t easy to find information about this song on the Internet, in this post we gather all the details we could get about “Sunflower”.

First of all, have you listened “Sunflower”?

Do You Recognize Frank Sinatra in “Sunflower”?

frank-sinatraNow that you have heard it you can say with certainty that “Sunflower” is different from all you have heard from Sinatra. This might be explained by the circumstances of the recording. The song was recorded on December 6, 1948, after the Columbia label reached an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Union. Since the 31th of December of 1947 up until that moment, unionized musicians in the U.S. were ordered to stop making records.

Thus, for nearly a year, recording studios were largely silent as the American Federation of Musicians demanded a percentage of sales from the record companies, in order to create a union fund set up to help unemployed musicians. But in 1948 the ban ended for Columbia when the record label was able to meet the AFM’s requests. By this time, Sinatra agreed to record “Sunflower”.

You may have noticed that “Sunflower” has a characteristic hillbilly ensemble that is definitely not similar to other Sinatra’s songs. The artist sings about a “Sunflower” that waits for him in Kansas and who he promises to return to wed with. We are used to Sinatra’s songs about love, like “Come Fly With Me” and “Strangers in the Night”, so there is nothing strange to note  about the lyrics. But when we pay attention to the tone and style of the song, something is different. Would you recognize Frank Sinatra if you didn’t know it was him singing?

The Controversy Around “Sunflower”

The oblivion could have been the end of a “floppy song” if, in 1964, a new scandal had not resurrected “Sunflower”. Almost 20 years after the song’s recording, started in New York’s stages the acclaimed musical “Hello Dolly”, whose main theme had a few notes similar to the ones from “Sunflower”.

So, a little after the musical’s opening, the composer Jerry Herman received a complaint from the composer of “Sunflower” saying that the opening notes of the musical were similar to his song. Jerry allegedly had never heard “Sunflower” and said it was only a coincidence. In fact, he was telling the truth, as was later proved. If you don’t know, there are only 8 notes that everyone who writes music has to use – and the possible combinations of those notes are not infinite.

There was some publicity about this issue which was very hurtful to Jerry Herman, since it had a possible impact upon the film rights of “Dolly” being sold to 20th Century Fox. Besides that, the public asked what song was that of Sinatra’s that they had never heard of.

In the end, the case was settled out of court when Jerry Herman agreed to pay $200,000. As he said in his memoir book, those 200 thousand dollars were a fortune for him in 1964, and he later regretted not fighting this battle in court, since he was truly innocent in the matter. Frank Sinatra, although had given the voice to the song, didn’t react to the controversy. Later, “Sunflower” returned to oblivion.

Who Was Frank Sinatra?

Francis Albert “Frank” Sinatra was born in December 12, 1915. Natural from New Jersey, he soon began his musical career only to become the voice of the swing era. After being a boy singer with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra started as a solo and signed by Columbia Records in 1943.

From that moment up until today, Frank Sinatra has sold already more than 150 million records all around the world. He was also honored with eleven Grammy Awards. In 1998, aged 82 years, he died of a heart attack, after being out of the stages since 1995.

Gayrajan Kohli
Gayrajan Kohli
Gayrajan is a staunch solar promoter, serial entrepreneur & management consultant. He has a decade of experience in solar PV, disruptive technologies and political consultancy in USA and India. He believes that development of solar and other renewable technologies is critical to India's energy security. Gayrajan holds a Masters and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from USA. Follow him on Twitter to gain daily industry insights.
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