Connie Francis, American Pop Star Extraordinaire
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Connie Francis, American Pop Star Extraordinaire

Famed singer and American pop star Connie Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in Newark, New Jersey, on December 12, 1938, to George Franconero, Sr., and Ida Ferrari-di Vito Franconera. Singer of such phenomenally popular songs as "Who's Sorry Now," "My Happiness" and "Among My Souvenirs,” Connie was one of the most significant female singers of the 1950s and 1960s.

Famed singer and American pop star Connie Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in Newark, New Jersey, on December 12, 1938, to George Franconero, Sr., and Ida Ferrari-di Vito Franconera. 

Having been encouraged by her father from the age of four to perform in local talent contests, pageants, and at other neighborhood festivities, Connie was known even as a child for her talent as a singer and accordion player.

After attending Newark Arts High School from 1951 to 1952, Connie and her family moved to Belleville, New Jersey.  Between 1953 and 1955 Connie began making TV appearances on a few local variety shows including NBC's "Startime Kids" under the name Connie Franconero.  It was while rehearsing for a spot on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts that Connie was advised by the famed star maker to change her stage name to Connie Francis for the sake of easier pronunciation.  Godfrey also told her to lose the accordion, advice she gladly followed since she was developing into a young woman and carrying the instrument had become burdensome.

 In 1955, "Startime Kids" went off air, and in May of that year her father and her manager provided the funding for Connie to record four songs.  Connie, however, having not yet found her own distinctive sound, sounded like other singers of the day and was summarily ignored by most record companies.  Finally, MGM Records decided to sign her, but not because they thought she could become a commercial success, but because one track she had recorded, "Freddy,” happened to be the name of the son of company executive Harry A. Myerson, who thought this song would make a nice birthday gift.  Subsequently, "Freddy" was released as Connie’s first single--which like the next eight--were, unfortunately, commercial flops.

Despite these failures, Connie was hired to record the vocals for actress Tuesday Weld’s singing scenes in the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock, and for Freda Holloway in the 1957 Warner Brothers rock and roll movie Jamboree.  In the fall of 1957, Connie enjoyed her first chart success with a duet single she had recorded with Marvin Rainwater called "The Majesty of Love" which broke into Billboard's Hot 100, peaking at #93.

But even though "The Majesty of Love" seemed to be the break Connie had been waiting for, MGM Records informed her that they did not intend to renew her contract after the next (and final) single. That single, recorded in October of 1957, was "Who's Sorry Now?” a song that caught on like no one thought it could. On January 1, 1958, it debuted on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and by mid-year sold over a million copies--launching Connie into worldwide stardom.  In April of 1958, "Who's Sorry Now" reached #1 on the UK Singles Chart and #4 in the US.  MGM Records, of course, changed their minds.

For the next four years, Connie was voted "Best Female Vocalist" by American Bandstand viewers, then recording the Neil Sedaka song "Stupid Cupid,” which reached #14 on the Billboard chart and became her second #1 in the UK.  And during the remainder of the '50s, Connie reached the US top 40 seven more times with songs like "My Happiness" and "Among My Souvenirs.”  In 1959 she achieved two gold records for the double-sided hit "Lipstick on Your Collar" and "Frankie.”

Following her father‘s career advise, Francis traveled to London in August of 1959 to record an Italian album at EMI's famous Abbey Road Studios entitled Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites.  Released in November of that year, it quickly entered the album charts where it remained for 81 weeks, peaking at #4.  (It remains to this day Connie’s most successful album.)  Its highly popular "Mama" reached #8 in the United States and #2 in the UK.

Connie followed this international success by recording seven more albums of Jewish, German and Irish "Favorites" between 1960 and 1964, marking her transition from youth-oriented Rock 'n' Roll music to adult contemporary.   She would, however, continue to record pop singles in the US including "Breakin' in a Brand New Broken Heart,” "When the Boy in Your Arms (Is the Boy in Your Heart)," and "Where the Boys Are" in 1961, and "Second Hand Love" in 1962.  “Where the Boys Are” was used as the theme song for Connie’s first motion picture (of the same name) which introduced the concept of spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and subsequently making it the hotspot for college students on their spring vacation (leading to other hotspots like Clearwater).

In 1960 Connie released the phenomenally popular "Everybody's Somebody's Fool,“ becoming her first #1 on the US charts, which she immediately followed with her second #1, "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own.”

In the US, Connie had a third #1 hit in 1962 with "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You.”

Following Connie’s first autobiographical book, For Every Young Heart published in 1963, she played a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland.  But like many pop stars of the era, Connie’s career was greatly effected by the so-called British Invasion, her commercial poplarity waning after 1963.  She had her final top-ten hit, "Vacation,” in 1962.

But despite her declining success on the Hot 100 chart, Connie remained a top concert draw, and her singles--now following a more mature style--were charting consistantly on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Charts and sometimes even reached Billboard's Country Charts.  But even as her popularity declined in the US, it began to pick up in Italy and throughout Europe where she continued to enjoy great success--and continues to this day.

While appearing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York on November 8, 1974, the first of several tragedies struck.  While staying at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson's Lodge, Connie was raped and nearly suffocated to death under the weight of a heavy mattress the assailant had thrown upon her.  (Her rapist was never found.)

Then in 1977, Francis underwent nasal surgery resulting in her completely losing her voice.  After having to go through several more medical procedures, she was forced to take vocal lessons to restore her voice.  But Connie was able to return to the recording studio in 1981 to record "Comme çi, comme ça,” and "I'm Me Again.”  But then in 1981, tragedy struck once more.  Connie’s brother George, with whom she’d been close her entire life, was murdered (reportedly) by Mafia hitmen; the reason was never disclosed.

Despite these personal tragedies, Connie took up live performing again, gracing the American Bandstand 30th Anniversary Special Episode

 

Success, however, was short-lived when Connie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which brought her career to a stop for four years while she received treatment at numerous hospitals.  Connie admitted that because these hospitals were so extremely depressing, she even attempted suicide. 

Connie again resumed her recording and performing career in 1992, re-recording eighteen of her biggest hits as well as six classics she'd always wanted to record such as "Are You Lonesome Tonight” and "Torn Between Two Lovers.”  Then in 1995 she recorded The Return Concert, a live album released on Legacy Recordings.  In late December 2004, Connie headlined in Las Vegas for the first time since 1989, and in March and October 2007 performed to sold-out crowds at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.  In 2010, she also appeared at the Las Vegas Hilton with Dionne Warwick, a show billed as "Eric Floyd's Grand Divas of Stage.”

Connie continues to appear live on stage to this day (as of November 2011).

Connie has been married four times, first in 1964 to Dick Kanellis, then in 1971 to hairdresser Izadore "Izzy" Marion, in 1973 to Joseph Garzilli, and in 1985 to television producer Bob Parkinson.

In 2000, "Who's Sorry Now?" was named one of the "Songs of the Century."

Connie was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in December 2007, a charter first-ballot member.

A "Connie Francis Way" street sign is displayed at the corner of Greylock Parkway and Forest Street in Belleville, New Jersey near the house in which she grew up.

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References:

Biography Channel's profile on Connie Francis: "Connie Francis--Sweetheart of Song"

Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.), London: Reed International Books Ltd.

Who's Sorry Now?, 1984

Thumb: http://mfwright.com/CFphotogallery/cfscreen7.jpg

Visit JAMES R COFFEY WRITING SERVICES AND RESOURCE CENTER  for more information

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Comments (5)

More fond memories, thank you. Well written.

Very nice and enjoyable share. Thanks sir

Why thank you my good man!

Ranked #4 in Popular Culture

I am a fan of Connie Francis, James. Her songs always make me young.

Thanks, Deep Blue. I know just what you mean!

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