Frank and Elvis Sing

Air Date: May 12, 1960

Notable Cast

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Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley team up in a duet, each singing a hit song made famous by the other. From the Welcome Home Elvis special on the ABC network, May 12, 1960.

Classic TV Clash of the Titans!

The classic TV clip above presents two entertainment titans performing together; acknowledging each other’s place in entertainment history. The clip demonstrates respect between generations, and the blending of two very different musical styles and pop-culture celebrity.

There are some obvious similarities between the careers of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, despite the different eras in which they performed. Early in their careers, they were teen idols, cheered for and swooned over by hordes of young girls. Both benefitted from developments in technology, mass media and pop culture.

But there was not an easy transition from one icon to the next between these two stars. Their arrivals on the music scene were dramatically different. Sinatra was a studied crooner building on the successes and stylings of big band and radio stars like Bing Crosby. Presley was an unschooled teen rebel creating the emerging, soon-to-be dominant music format called Rock and Roll.

However, it was inevitable that they would be compared. Of an early Presley appearance on the Milton Berle show, the New York Times said Presley had, “…no discernible singing ability,” and was, “…. not nearly so talented as Frankie Sinatra back in the latter’s rather hysterical days at the Paramount Theatre.”

Initially, Presley was a stark contrast to Sinatra. While Sinatra caused teens to swoon with the sound of his voice, Presley, “had almost hypnotic powers …” that left some parents, “… a shade disgusted and content to permit the Presley fad play itself out.”

On December 21, 1957 that began to change. A small article appeared at the bottom of page 23 in the New York Times announcing that Elvis Presley would be drafted.  Offers for ‘special duty’ assignments were made. The Navy wanted to create a Company, made up of Elvis’s friends from Memphis. The Airforce wanted him for recruiting. The Army offered him a “Concert” assignment, focusing on entertaining troops as his tour of duty.

Elvis’s savvy manager, Col. Tom Parker, recognized that two years of special assignments would not play well with 1950’s American youth and had Elvis ask to serve as a regular soldier. On the 24th of March in 1958, Presley became Private in the U.S. Army. In August he was sent to Germany where he served in Company D, 32nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Armor Division. During his service, he rose to the rank of Sergeant.

Elvis left active duty on March 5, 1960, with an official full discharge date of March 23rd. It was inevitable that his discharge would be a major media event. A press conference was held on March 3rd and the media braved difficult weather to attend.

The above clip was from a Frank Sinatra Special sponsored by Timex, broadcast on May 12, 1960. This introduction of Elvis back into mainstream media was carefully planned and executed Col. Tom Parker chose this special knowing it would help introduce Elvis to a larger, more mature audience, thanks to the host’s popularity.

Elvis received an unheard of $125,000 for his appearance, more than Sinatra was paid as host.  Sinatra, however, saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate his endurance as an entertainer and celebrity, and to leverage the public’s hunger for Presley to increase ratings for the last of his contracted shows for Timex.

The night benefitted both celebrities and left the American public with a pop-culture moment, and a classic TV video clip that will never be forgotten.

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