Frank Sinatra died at 82 on May 14, 1998 and, legend has it, was buried with a bottle (or possibly a flask) of Jack Daniel’s.
This makes sense. The two went back decades and Sinatra’s feelings became public in 1955 when he started announcing on stage that Jack Daniel’s was “the nectar of the gods.”
The words of Ol’ Blue Eyes, who would have turned 101 this coming Monday, proved equally sweet to Jack Daniel’s. While the company got up and running in the 1800s, Prohibition and World War II combined to ensure the distillery was largely shut down between 1910 and 1947. In 1955, they were selling 150,000 cases. Then Frank spoke and by 1956 they’d jumped to 300,000 and started the transformation from a product that tended not to travel too far from Lynchburg, Tennessee to the powerhouse that sells more than 10 million cases around the globe each year.
It feels right that Sinatra once inadvertently helped create a global brand just because he liked drinking the stuff.
Jack Daniel’s ensured Sinatra always had a supply of cases, sent to his house and sometimes airports if he were traveling. By all accounts, Sinatra enjoyed it very much. Indeed, in 2015 his drummer Gregg Field wrote about Sinatra’s final public concert, a performance in front of 30,000 fans in Tokyo. The brief article notes Sinatra sipping whiskey on stage. (Field termed the on-stage drinking “mostly a prop”—but it was the real stuff; fellow Rat Pack-er Dean Martin was the one with a rep for playing drunk while allegedly swigging apple juice.) Field mentions Jack Daniel’s by name three times, including Sinatra mocking Field for adding ginger ale to his glass: “Would you like a little apple pie with your whiskey?”
In 2016 another very successful singer, Beyoncé, put out an album called Lemonade. A huge amount of speculation centers on whether the album’s handling of infidelity has been inspired by her own experiences with her husband. (Beyoncé’s own mother felt the need to weigh in.)
Now six facts that may or may not be related:
1. Beyoncé is married to Jay Z.
2. Jay Z is an owner of the music service Tidal.
3. Tidal, to put it kindly, is struggling: Jay Z is suing the previous owners; there have been layoffs; the CEO left; there simply aren’t that many subscribers.
4. Billboard has argued that Tidal’s “best (perhaps only) weapon” is exclusive streaming.
5. Beyoncé gave Tidal a streaming exclusive.
6. According to her cousin, Beyoncé was “praying that this album will actually save their marriage.”
To recap: At a moment her husband’s company desperately needed attention, Beyoncé happened to put out an album guaranteed tabloid coverage galore and made it so initially you had to go to the company he owns. (You know what they say: Revenge is best served by significantly boosting an alleged adulterer’s most recent fiscal quarter.)
At the risk of being cynical, I sense that might not all be a coincidence. Likewise, there’s something strange about insisting the album must come from Queen’s B personal experience when the single “Hold Up” credits 15 different songwriters—though according to Wikipedia a mere seven were key to its composition.
This isn’t to knock Beyoncé: Unless you’re Adele, actually making money off albums nowadays requires Wharton-level financial expertise. In Sinatra’s era, you could get rich on recordings alone, as he did from time his debut, The Voice of Frank Sinatra, hit no. 1 in 1946 to 48 years later, when his final album, Duets II, reached no. 9 in 1994.
For his part, Sinatra did attempt to become a titan of industry. Having played casinos so many times, he tried to build his own casino empire, only to see it fall apart when he lost his gaming license after Chicago underworld figure Sam Giancana was hosted by a property of his. Quite simply, Sinatra was always more the artist than the businessman: He lived a long life and died wealthy, but he had a self-destructive streak that includes multiple suicide attempts. It feels right that Sinatra once inadvertently helped create a global brand just because he liked drinking the stuff. Indeed, the relationship between the two wasn’t fully commercialized until after his death, with Jack Daniel’s release of Sinatra Select and Sinatra Century.
So around the anniversary of his death, in memory of a simpler time when a star could praise a whiskey because he enjoyed the taste and not because he required another revenue stream, raise a glass and remember Frank’s wise words:
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”