Born Concetta Rosemarie Franconero, 12 December 1938, Newark, New Jersey
Blessed with a golden voice, Connie Francis is the biggest-selling female artist of the pre-Beatles rock era, with total world sales estimated at 90 million records (as of 2015). She is a truly international star ; her music transcends all boundaries, both musically and geographically.
Connie’s father, George Franconero (a second-generation Italian immigrant), encouraged - to put it mildly - her musical activities from an early age. She learned to play the accordion at four, was on local TV at ten, on the Arthur Godfrey TV talent show at twelve, then three years on the “Startime Kids” variety show.
After being turned down by every record label her father approached, 16-year-old Connie signed a 10-singles contract with MGM, mainly because one of the songs on her demo, “Freddy”, also happened to be the name of the son of MGM’s president. “Freddy” was released in June 1955 as the singer’s first 45. After nine flop singles, she entered Coastal Studio in NYC on October 2, 1957, for what was meant to be her last session. Francis had recently accepted a pre-med scholarship to New York University and was contemplating the end of her career as a singer. Having recorded two songs, with sixteen minutes of studio time left, she hoped that she didn’t have to record the third song her father had in mind, an old tune from 1923 called “Who’s Sorry Now". But Mr. Franconero insisted. The song was recorded in two takes and became the A-side of her 10th MGM single.
Nothing happened during the first two months of its release. Then, on New Year’s Day 1958, Dick Clark played it on American Bandstand, telling his eight million viewers that Connie Francis was "a new girl singer that is heading straight for the number one spot”. Clark continued to play the record every day for three months. The disc reached # 4 in the USA and # 1 in the UK (for six weeks). 1958 was the year Connie Francis arrived and she wouldn’t be out of the charts for another ten years.
A romance with Bobby Darin was thwarted by her father, who kept his daughter on a very tight leash. George Franconero threatened Darin with a gun and told him to never see Connie again.
The follow-up, “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry”, sounded too much like “Who’s Sorry Now” and did nowhere near as well. A switch to rock 'n’ roll was made with “Stupid Cupid”, from the pens of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. It was the duo’s first songwriting success and also the first major rock n roll hit (# 14 US, # 1 UK, again for six weeks) by a female white singer. Sedaka and Greenfield went on to write many other songs for Connie, including the hits “Fallin’” (1958), “Frankie” (1959) , “Where the Boys Are” and “Baby Roo” (both 1961). When Neil Sedaka was busy on the road promoting his hit records, Howard Greenfield wrote songs with Jack Keller. Two of their collaborations were # 1 hits for Francis in 1960, first “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”, then “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own”. Connie’s third and last US # 1 was “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” in 1962.
Most of her records from the early period were a mix of oldies in a sentimental ballad style (“My Happiness”, “Among My Souvenirs") and jaunty upbeat numbers (“Lipstick On Your Collar”, “Robot Man”, “Plenty Good Lovin’” - the latter one of her rare own compositions). Connie had an affinity for languages and was one of the first pop singers to record her songs in other languages. “Mama” - partly sung in English, partly in Italian - was an early example (# 2 UK, 1960). It was lifted from an LP called “Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites”, recorded in London. To this day it is still her most successful album.
Over the decades she has recorded in at least twelve different languages. She starred in “Where the Boys Are” and three other (nondescript) films, sang voice-overs in movies for actresses who couldn’t sing, and was a guest star on innumerable TV shows. “Vacation” (1962) was her last Top 10 hit, both in the US and the UK, but Connie continued to have chart entries until 1969. In that year she chose not to renew her MGM contract (after 52 MGM albums!), opting for the domestic life instead. In 1974 her third husband encouraged her to return to the stage, with disastrous consequences. After her third performance, she was raped at the New York hotel she was staying in. Ultimately, this incident contributed to the end of her marriage.
For several years Francis did not perform in public. She was diagnosed with manic depression and underwent psychiatric treatment for long periods. Another tragedy in her life was the killing of her brother George Franconero Jr. by Mafia hitmen in 1981. But later in the 1980s she returned to recording and performing, both in the USA and abroad. The year 1996 saw the release of her last CD with newly recorded material, “With Love To Buddy”, a tribute album of songs made famous by Buddy Holly. As of 2015, she continues to perform, albeit with decreasing frequency.
Official website : http://www.conniefrancis.com
Discography / sessionography :
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott, Ron Roberts, the official website.
Dik, June 2015
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