Why Elvis Presley agreed to perform with rock and roll hater, Frank Sinatra

elvis-sinatraCMusic fans seem to be obsessed with the private meeting and jam session between Elvis Presley and The Beatles, but another collaboration between two music legends seems to be overlooked. That would be the legendary performance of The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, with Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, The Voice, Frank Sinatra.

The two singers, Elvis and Sinatra, performed together after Presley was released from the army in the spring of 1960. Having been absent from the rock and roll scene for the past two years and also having suffered the loss of his mother, Gladys, the post-army Elvis was nervous wondering if the public would still embrace him like they did in the 1950s.

To welcome him back, Frank Sinatra created an entire special around Elvis called “The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis.” The show was taped in Miami at the Fontainebleau Hotel on March 26, 1960 and subsequently aired on May 12. By that time, one of the songs Elvis sang on the show, “Stuck on You”, had already hit number one.

Elvis appeared more mature and subdued in his formal black tuxedo. But the spark of sexuality and rebelliousness was still evident during Elvis’ performance. Having been censored on television in the 1950s only being shown from the waist up, Elvis did not move around as much as he used to. However, a nod of the head or shake of the shoulder still made the girls in the audience scream with delight.

But the fact that Presley would agree to appear with Sinatra on “The Frank Sinatra Show” is puzzling since Frank Sinatra had publicly denounced rock and roll only a few years earlier: “Rock and roll smells phony and false,” Sinatra said in 1957. “It is sung and written for the most part by cretinous goons… it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth…[It] is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.”

However, in 1960, Elvis had more pressing things on his mind, like would he have a career to come back to after two years in the army? Credit is due to Colonel Tom Parker who kept on top of the marketing of Elvis Presley’s music and image during the two years Elvis was AWOL from the public eye. When Presley was inducted into the army in March 1958, he was still dealing with harsh criticism of his perceived uncouth and suggestive performance style. For example, in October 1957, the Los Angeles police threatened to arrest him at his concert at the Pan Pacific auditorium if he continued to gyrate the same way he did at the previous night’s show.

Not knowing the longevity of rock and roll or of Presley’s career, Colonel Parker decided he should start marketing his client to an older fan base ensuring that Presley would continue to have a following when the teenyboppers had moved on to someone else. A collaboration and endorsement from one of the establishment’s most successful entertainers, Frank Sinatra, would be a great step in that transition.

Sinatra, 45 years old at the time, seemed to be threatened by the success of the younger Presley, but with the encouragement of his daughter, Nancy, agreed to join forces with 25-year-old Presley, knowing that the appearance would help his show’s ratings. A hint of condescension was apparent when, after Presley performed two numbers, Sinatra came onstage to join Presley on a duet.

“You do ‘Witchcraft’ and I’ll do one of the other ones,” said Sinatra, to audience laughter. Frank proceeded to sing a jazzy version of Elvis’ hit song “Love Me Tender” intertwined with Presley singing Frank’s song “Witchcraft.” Backed by an orchestra, Presley also sang in a jazzy style, but still added his own sexy, youthful mannerisms continuing to make the girls scream. To see and hear two of the biggest legends in the music business, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, harmonizing together at the end of the duet is a historic moment never to be forgotten.

Since Presley acquiesced and played the good sport on the show, over the years a friendship was able to develop between himself and Sinatra. Nancy Sinatra appeared in one of Elvis’ movies, Speedway, and Sinatra let Elvis and Priscilla use his private jet to fly from Palm Springs to their wedding in Las Vegas.

At least one rivalry in the music business had been resolved. As for The Beatles and Elvis, well, that’s another story…

For more fascinating Elvis Presley stories, check out the author’s book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music

The full story of the lifelong behind-the-scenes relationship between The Beatles and Elvis Presley can be found in this new book – click to read a free excerpt:
ELVIS AND THE BEATLES: Love and Rivalry Between the Two Biggest Acts of the 20th Century