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Connie Francis (born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero; December 12, 1938) is an American pop singer, and the top-charting female vocalist of the 1950s and 1960s. She is best known for her downbeat ballads delivered in her trademark sobbing, emotive style. In addition to her signature song, "Where The Boys Are", her many hits include "Lipstick on Your Collar", "Who's Sorry Now?", and "Stupid Cupid". She topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on three occasions with "Everybody's Somebody's Fool", "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own" and "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You". She also was known for her early relationship with the singer and teen heartthrob Bobby Darin.
Francis was born in the Italian Down Neck, or Ironbound, neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. She attended Newark Arts High School in 1951 and 1952. She and her family moved to Belleville, New Jersey, where she graduated 'Salutatorian' from the Belleville High School Class of 1955. Following her appearance on the Arthur Godfrey show (singing "Daddy's Little Girl"), Connie was advised to change her name from Franconero to something more easily pronounceable and to drop the accordion that was part of her act. Then in her 1952 appearance on Battle of the Ages she is introduced as "13-year-old Connie Francis." There she sang "Wheel of Fortune." The story goes that every record label she had tried had turned her down. Finally, even when MGM decided to take her, it was basically because the track she wanted to record, "Freddy," happened to be the name of the son of a company executive. Francis' first single, "Freddy," (1955) and her next nine singles were commercial failures.
Early in her career, Francis was introduced to Bobby Darin, then an up-and-coming singer and songwriter. Darin's manager arranged for him to help write several songs for her. Despite some disagreement about material, after several weeks Darin and Francis developed a romantic relationship. Francis' strict Italian father would separate the couple whenever possible. When her father learned that Bobby Darin had suggested the two lovers elope after one of her shows, he ran Darin out of the building at gunpoint, telling Bobby to never see his daughter again. Francis saw Darin only two more times - once when the two were scheduled to sing together for a television show, and again when Francis was spotlighted on the TV series This Is Your Life. By the latter's taping, Bobby Darin had married actress Sandra Dee. In her autobiography Francis says she and her father were driving into the Lincoln Tunnel when the radio DJ announced Darin's and Dee's marriage. Her father made a negative comment about Bobby finally being out of their lives. Angered, Francis wrote, she hoped the Hudson River would fill the Lincoln Tunnel, killing both herself and her father; she later wrote that not marrying Darin was the biggest mistake of her life.
After the failure of her first nine demos, MGM was about to drop her. She considered a career in medicine and was about to accept a four-year scholarship offered at New York University. At what was to have been her final recording session for MGM she recorded a cover version of the 1923 song "Who's Sorry Now?" which had been written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Francis has said that she recorded it at the suggestion of her father, who convinced her it stood a chance of becoming a hit because it was a song adults already knew and that teenagers would dance to if it had a contemporary arrangement.
The gamble paid off. On January 1, 1958, the song debuted on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. By mid-year, over a million copies had been sold, and Francis was suddenly launched into worldwide stardom. In April 1958, "Who's Sorry Now" reached number one on the UK Singles Chart and number four in the US. For the next four years, Francis was voted the "Best Female Vocalist" by "American Bandstand" viewers.
As Francis explains at each of her concerts, she began searching for a new hit immediately after the success of "Who's Sorry Now?" After the relative failure of follow-up single "I'm Sorry I Made You Cry" (which stalled at #36), Francis met with Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield who sang a number of ballads they had written for her. After a few hours, Francis began writing in her diary while the songwriters played the last of their ballads. Afterward, Francis told them that she considered their ballads too intellectual for the young generation. Greenfield suggested that Sedaka sing a song they had written that morning for another girl group. Sedaka protested that Francis would be insulted, but Greenfield said that since she hated all the other songs they had performed, they had nothing to lose. Sedaka played "Stupid Cupid." When he finished, Francis announced that he had just played her new hit record. The song reached #14 on the Billboard chart. (Incidentally, while Francis was writing in her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. She refused, but Sedaka was inspired to write "The Diary," his own first hit single. Through the rest of her early career, Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of her hits, including "Fallin'" (#30) and "Where the Boys Are" (#4).
The success of "Stupid Cupid" restored momentum to Francis' chart career, and she reached the U.S. top 40 an additional seven times during the remainder of the '50s. She managed to churn out more hits by covering several older songs, such as "My Happiness" and "Among My Souvenirs", as well as performing her own original songs. In 1959, she gained two gold records for a double-sided hit: on the A-side, "Lipstick on Your Collar"; on the B-side, "Frankie".
Although Connie Francis had had a string of hits by mid-1959, the official turning point of her career was when she made an appearance on The Perry Como Show. She sang the song "Mama", in both Italian and English. It was from this point where Francis now appealed to not just teenagers but also to adults. As a result, she recorded an entire album of Italian songs entitled Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorites. The album peaked at #4 and was the best-selling album of her career. From then on, Francis recorded entire albums, and eventually her own hits, in foreign languages.
In 1960, Francis became the first female singer to have two consecutive No. 1 singles, both on the top for two weeks: "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" and "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own." That same year, she became the youngest headliner to sing at the Copacabana in New York City as well as in Las Vegas. She became a celebrity spokeswoman for Coca-Cola and products with her likeness flooded the American consumer market. She was also the recipient of countless awards, both in and outside of the United States. At one point, she even received the Custom Clothiers' Best Dressed Award.
In 1961, she starred in her own television special on ABC television, sponsored by Brylcreem. In Kicking Sound Around, she sang and acted with Tab Hunter, Eddie Foy Jr. and Art Carney. She was a big favorite on the popular musical variety shows and game shows of the era, always appearing more than once, such as The Perry Como Show, The Dean Martin Show, Password, What's My Line?, and The Ed Sullivan Show, on which she made over twenty appearances, making more appearances than any other performer, except for the comedy team of Wayne & Shuster. She also made a special appearance at the Academy Awards that year, singing one of the nominees for Academy Award for Best Song, the title song for the film Never on Sunday, which won.
Francis also managed to successfully make the transition into the movie industry, starting off with the film, Where the Boys Are. The title song became Francis' signature song, peaking at #4 in the US and topping the charts around the world. The film also introduced the concept of spring break as the once sleepy town of Fort Lauderdale was now the hotspot for college students on their spring vacation. Francis would appear in three more films during the 1960s and she received 50% of the profits from her films.
Francis had a third number one hit in 1962: "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You", and her immense success led MGM to give her complete freedom to choose whichever songs she wanted to record. She recorded entire albums ranging in everything from R&B and country to Broadway standards, children's music, waltzes, and select songs from other popular songwriters of the day, such as Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It has been estimated that, in the United States alone, Francis has sold over 90 million records.
Her first autobiography, For Every Young Heart, was released the same year. On July 3, 1963, she played a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland. During the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, Connie Francis performed for U.S. troops.
Due to changing trends in the early- and mid-1960s, namely the British Invasion, Francis' chart success began to wane. She had her final top-ten hit, "Vacation," in 1962. A number of Francis singles continued to reach the top 40 in the U.S. Hot 100 through the mid-60s, with her last top 40 entry being 1964's "Be Anything (but Be Mine)." Her singles continued to chart in the lower regions of the Hot 100 through 1969 though she had one additional single ("Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?") "Bubble Under" the chart in 1973. (Her final AC chart single, "I'm Me Again," came in 1981.) Despite her declining chart success, Francis remained a top concert draw.
Francis was the first American artist to regularly record in other languages. As a result, she enjoyed her greatest successes outside of the United States. During the 1960s, her songs not only topped the charts in numerous countries around the world, but she was voted the #1 singer in over ten countries. In 1960, she was named the most popular artist in Europe, the first time a non-European received this honor.
Francis' enduring popularity overseas led to her having television specials in numerous countries around the world, such as England, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Even at the height of the Cold War, Francis' music was well received in Iron Curtain countries, although it was common knowledge that the Soviets strongly disliked rock n' roll.
Francis mentioned in her autobiography that the language barrier in certain European countries made it difficult for her songs to get airplay, especially in Germany, an extremely nationalistic country. She also mentioned that Germany's most popular singer, Freddy Quinn, often sold two to three million sales per song, equivalent to about twelve million in the United States. Using this as the basis for her first number-one hit, "Everybody's Somebody's Fool", which had initially been written as a ballad, Francis convinced the song writers not only to speed up the song's tempo and include more of a polka sound but also to record the song in various foreign languages, a practice she continued with all of her original hits. The song peaked at #1 in Germany for two weeks, as it did in many other countries and Francis would have two more #1 hits on the German charts. The B-side of the song, "Jealous of You", was an enormous #1 hit in Italy.
Francis' popularity outside of the United States helped to maintain her career, even when her hits were struggling on the charts in her home country. She continued to have chart hits into the 1970s in some countries and, even to this day, she remains very popular in European countries, even though she no longer records or appears as frequently as she used to.
In total, Francis recorded in fifteen languages throughout her career: English, Spanish, Italian (as well as Neapolitan, a dialect of Italian native to the city and region of Naples), French, German, Japanese, Greek, Swedish, Dutch, Portugese, Yiddish, Hebrew, Latin, and Hawaiian and sang in Romanian during a live performance in 1970 in that country. Obviously, Francis was not fluent in all of these languages and she had to learn her foreign language songs phonetically. Francis explained in a 1961 television interview that she was fluent in Spanish and Italian, but always had a translator nearby to make sure her translated lyrics were as grammatically correct as possible.
Francis recorded several albums of country music standards during her pop career. In 1969, she had a modest country hit with "The Wedding Cake" and "My Happiness" (No. 2), which she recorded in 1958, and re-recorded in 1978 and 1989. She appeared on the country charts again in 1982 with "There's Still a Few Good Love Songs Left in Me." Several country singers found chart success remaking Francis' pop hits for the country market, including Marie Osmond, "Who's Sorry Now?" in 1975, Susan Raye, "My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own" in 1972, and Margo Smith, "Don't Break The Heart That Loves You" in 1978. Debby Boone had two successful recordings of Connie Francis' songs, with "My Heart has a Mind of Its Own," reaching No. 11 in 1979 and another cover release, "Breakin' In a Brand New Broken Heart," which reached No. 25 in 1979. She also included "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" on her 1986 album, The Best of Debby Boone.
Francis took a hiatus in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a result of cosmetic surgery. The result made it impossible for her to perform in air-conditioned venues. Connie Francis returned to the spotlight in 1973 with "The Answer," a song written for her. She soon began performing again. While appearing at the Westbury Music Fair in New York, on November 8, 1974, Francis was raped at the Jericho Turnpike Howard Johnson's Lodge. She subsequently sued the motel chain for failing to provide adequate security. She reportedly won a $2.5 million judgment, at the time one of the largest such judgments in history, leading to a reform in hotel security. Her rapist was never found.
That same year, Francis suffered a miscarriage. In 1977, Francis underwent nasal surgery and completely lost her voice. She had to go through several more operations and, even when she got her voice back, she was forced to take voice lessons, something she had never used before. Francis claimed that the one bright spot of her life during these years was the adoption of a son, Joseph Garzilli Jr., also known as Joey, born in 1974.
In 1978, she appeared with her friend Dick Clark on his NBC-TV variety show Dick Clark's Live Wednesday. Unknown to the audience, the still-fragile Francis lip-synched to a pre-recorded disco medley of her hit "Where the Boys Are." In 1981, her brother was killed by the Mafia.
Francis returned to the stage in 1982, even appearing in the town where she had been raped. However, her success was short-lived as she was diagnosed with mental illness and depression and she was committed to a total of seventeen hospitals. Francis admitted that she nearly committed suicide because these hospitals were extremely depressing.
She released her autobiography, Who's Sorry Now? in 1984. It was a New York Times bestseller. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan appointed her as head of his task force on violent crime. She has also been the spokeswoman for Mental Health America's trauma campaign as well as an involved worker for the USO and UNICEF.
In 1989, she resumed her performing career again. Her most recent CD The American Tour (2004) contains performances from recent shows. In late December 2004, Francis headlined in Las Vegas for the first time since 1989. In March and October 2007, Francis performed to sold-out crowds at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. She appeared in concert in Manila, the Philippines, on Valentine's Day 2008. In 2010, she also appeared at Las Vegas Hilton with Dionne Warwick, a show billed as "Eric Floyd's Grand Divas of Stage Show".
Francis has been married four times. Against her father's wishes, on August 15, 1964, she married Dick Kanellis. She divorced him three months later, citing domestic violence. She married hairdresser Izadore "Izzy" Marion on January 16, 1971. They divorced the following year. In September 1973 she married Joseph Garzilli; together they adopted a son, Joseph Garzilli Jr., also known as Joey, born in 1974. After the marriage ended, she married television producer Bob Parkinson, on June 27, 1985. Like the others, this marriage ended in divorce in 1986.
Francis brought a suit alleging that Universal Music Group took advantage of her condition and stopped paying royalties. The suit was dismissed. On November 27, 2002, she filed a second suit against UMG alleging the label had synchronized several of her songs into movies without her permission: the 1994 film Post Cards from America, the 1996 film The Craft, and the 1999 film Jawbreaker. This suit was also dismissed. Francis also sued the producers of Jawbreaker for using her song "Lollipop Lips," which is heard during a sex scene.
Francis appeared in the M-G-M motion pictures Where the Boys Are (1960); Follow the Boys (1963) (the title song of which became a No. 17 Billboard single for Francis); Looking for Love (1964), and When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965).
She also overdubbed the vocals for Tuesday Weld in the 1956 movie "Rock, Rock, Rock," and for Freda Holloway in the 1957 Warner Brothers rock and roll movie Jamboree, singing the songs "Siempre," "For Children of All Ages," "Who Are We to Say," and "Twenty-Four Hours a Day," which appeared on the promotional soundtrack album for the film.
Billboard chart historian Joel Whitburn has ranked Francis as the top female vocalist on the Adult Contemporary chart during the 1960s. In 1961, Francis was the first female artist to score a No. 1 Billboard Adult Contemporary single with "Together," and she topped the AC chart the following year with "Don't Break the Heart That Loves You." In 2000, "Who's Sorry Now?" was named one of the Songs of the Century. Francis was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in December 2007, a charter first-ballot member.
Francis and singer Gloria Estefan completed a screenplay for a movie based on Francis' life titled Who's Sorry Now? Estefan has announced that she would produce and play the lead. She said, "[Connie Francis] isn't even in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and yet she was the first female pop star worldwide, and has recorded in nine languages. She has done a lot of things for victims' rights since her rape in the '70s .... There's a major story there."
In December 2009 the film project was dropped. According to Connie Francis, "They chose to use amateur writers to write the screenplay. I wanted the writer Robert Freeman who wrote that miniseries Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, which won I don’t know how many Emmy Awards, but Gloria and company were unwilling to hire that writer. I absolutely adored his screenplay of Judy’s life ... he was so eager to do my life story for film, but she [Gloria] wouldn’t agree to hire him and that was the end of that. And I’m sorry I wasted ten years with those people [i.e., the Estefans]." In the same article, Francis revealed that entertainer Dolly Parton had been contacting her for years trying to produce her life story, but due to her previous commitment to Estefan's organization, she was not able to accept Parton's offer. She noted in the article that both she and Parton had considered, independently of one another, actress Valerie Bertinelli to play Francis.
A "Connie Francis Way" street sign is displayed at the corner of Greylock Parkway and Forest Street in Belleville, NJ near the house in which she grew up.