With apologies to Mr. Seger, rock and roll sometimes “forgets.” Sometimes inexplicably so. Consider, if you will, the case of one Connie Francis, (nee’ Concetta Rosemarie Franoconero of West Orange, New Jersey), a star of the highest caliber of song and screen in the genre’s development, and included too rarely in conversations of the all-time greats. It’s hard to pinpoint any particular reason why this should be, but rather than dwell upon the reasons for Connie’s absence in the conversation, let’s try to accentuate the positive and give her her proper due.
Connie Francis was a whirlwind. Her biggest hits – “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Lipstick On Your Collar” – were ubiquitous radio fare between her first Top 40 hit in 1955 and her final one in 1964. Her star turn in the movie, Where the Boys Are, confirmed her as a multi-dimensional talent. The movie has aged shockingly well, its humor mostly intact. Her charm was complete and undeniable. Her mezza-soprano was a genuine gift of nature. She sold more than 200 million records.
Just as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, and the other men of Rock and Roll’s first generation served as archetypes for decades of descendants, Connie Francis paved the way for every pre-Madonna (and more than a few post-Madonna ones to boot) female pop star. The debts of gratitude are many: Lesley Gore, Cher, Debbie Gibson, and Whitney Houston, just to name the first people that came into my head. It may also be worth noting that, unlike men, whose points of inspiration could be “wild men,” “lunatics,” sexual healers, or nerdy geeks, Connie was alone in those early days. Rock and Roll, and surely the world at large, were in no way ready for a Joan Jett or a Courtney Love. The clean-living schoolgirl had to suffice well into the ’70s. Petula Clark, The Supremes, and Karen Carpenter could all easily claim Connie’s mantle.
The answer to why Connie is forgotten is contained within her success. She belongs to the group that too many latter-day rockers can’t abide: polished teen idols. Forgetting that her stardom began in 1955, her detractors lump her in with the all-but-shunned “producer era” between the end of the beginning of rock and The Beatles’ “saving” of the form. This view does, of course, have some merit. Connie was certainly capable of schmaltz, but it should be a non-starter to anyone with functioning ears that she was not exactly Fabian — but neither was she Annette Funicello.
I wonder, too, whether there’s something about our jaundiced, hyper-sexualized society that just can’t understand Connie Francis and the world she existed in. Her songs, while generally well-written enough, bespeak a naivete’ that we can’t possibly relate to. To our coarsened ears, it sometimes sounds almost like she inherits a world with the Duggars as her only audience. It’s a difficult thought because you can’t help but wonder which reality is preferable. It’s easier to just throw Connie Francis and her contribution in shaping rock and roll down the Memory Hole.
Like the vast majority of her peers, the British Invasion all but ended Connie’s run in the Top 10. She was able to put her talents to use productively by becoming something of an adult contemporary Vegas singer — and she remained in the music business until the early 70s when a series of divorces, a mental breakdown, and a brutal rape sidelined her. Finally, in the late 80s and early 90s, she attempted a series of comebacks but was understandably never able to fully reclaim a stake in the industry. These days, and according to her website, she is very active in mental health awareness.
There’s still time, luckily enough, to restore Connie’s legacy. If she feels cheated by history, she shouldn’t. Too many people have her in their hearts for her to ever truly fade. Your turn.
PS. 20-some years on, another singer with a distinctive voice….and some issues. Plus, our look at one of the great female artists of our time.
Photo Credit: Image of Connie Francis by Douglas Miller/Keystone, courtesy Getty Images
I have always loved Connie Francis and still do. Her voice was mesmerizing and the songs perfect! You can sing your heart out along with her and cry at the sorrow she brings. I understood that her family were old school Italian and very strict with her. I’m unsure how it really was but believe that it was not a good situation. The rape she suffered was inhumane and it affected her greatly. As it did her fans. What woman felt safe after that! Losing track of her through the years I would always go back to her voice. It was soothing to me. I pray for her that she will have a wonderful life that God will give her as she moves into the last quarter of her life. Thank you Connie for sharing the miracle of your voice with us.
I can agree so heartily for connie Francis was my idol always till today and forever she gave me joy everytime she sang always grateful for your voice talent thank you connie for the unforgettable memories blessings. miriam favretto wish i was in florida i would have come and see your auction even though it would be very emotional. For me as well love you sooo
I am so happy to find your article. I have expressed the same sentiments for years and years. Connie is my favorite female singer of that era – and she was a huge influence on my own singing and recording career. I’m lucky that she and I have become long-distance friends since 2011 when I hosted four episodes of “A Visit With Connie Francis” on Baltimore Net Radio. She is a superior human being, as well as an artist. Thanks for this wonderful essay! Ken Slavin
Connie has to be the most versatile singer, singing competently in all genres. Her range is enormous and she cannot be pigeonholed. She has had great success and a brilliant career. Her comeback in the early 80s was enormously successful, but then sidetracked by problems, but she always remained a big concert draw all over the world. Many of her non-hit recordings are her best, and many are thought to be definitive versions by the authors. Sample Brother Can You Spare A Dime, Born Free, The Impossible Dream, Am I Blue, I Will Wait For you, etc.
Yes, judged by today’s coarse standards, there appear to be a certain naiveté about some of Connie’s songs and her clean image. But of course she was reflecting the times she was in. She had already begun recording by the time Frank Sinatra had a Top Ten hit in the USA in December 1955 and in the UK the following month with Love And Marriage. That song’s sentiment was “Love and marriage, love and marriage/ They go together like a horse and carriage/ This I tell you, brother/ You can’t have one without the other”. The idea was repeated in different words: “It’s an institute you can’t disparage/ Ask the local gentry/And they will say it’s elementary” (note too the deference to ‘the gentry’, another attitude that has largely gone) and “Dad was told by mother/ You can’t have one, you can´t have none/ You can’t have one without the other”. Very firmly – no sex before marriage!
Yet although there were a number of songs which displayed ideas that are now outdated or widely ignored half a century later, the beauty and perfection of Connie’s voice, and the artistry of her interpretations, survive and remain a joy to this day.
“Her songs, while generally well-written enough, bespeak a naivete’ that we can’t possibly relate to. To our coarsened ears, it sometimes sounds almost like she inherits a world with the Duggars as her only audience.”
I don’t know, I listen to her on I’m Sorry I Made You Cry, singing in that sultry voice and tone, so voluptuous, just totally teasing the listener, she seems to know exactly what she’s doing with that song.
People have been bombed with blatant, vulgar sexuality in pop culture so long nowadays, they can’t spot classy sexuality if it smacks them in the face. Coursened ear, yes, good term.
I think Dick Clark hit the nail on the head when he said that Connie’s voice sounded as if she were crying. Her song, “Where The Boys Are,” is one of the greatest ever, and her Christmas album is not to be missed.
She is in a class of her own! Pure Gold. I will never forget her songs. She is the Best of the best. What a voice. Al Di LA is my favorite song. Along with Mama.j
Thank G d for her gifts in voice. There is no one like her.. And Now I’ll go and Listen to Connie for an hour or two. Thank you, Bella. Connie For your great hits. Love Samuel.xoxo.
I fell in love with Connie Francis when I was 10 years old and heard Among My Souvenirs and as far as I’m concerned no one previously or to date can sing like she can. Her voice is unique and cannot be matched. She puts more emotion in a song than any other female singer ever did. I cannot for the life of me understand why she is always overlooked by singers who can’t hold a candle to her.
Her powerful and amazing voice was one of the best I have heard. She was an artist whose voice and style conveyed genuine emotion. The only others I can think of with that unique ability were Patsy Cline and Karen Carpenter.
She’s actually from Brooklyn. Mom happened to beIN New Jersey when she went into labor.