Interview with Connie Francis: The First Lady of Rock and Roll

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Acclaimed entertainer Connie Francis chatted with Digital Journal’s Markos Papadatos, where she opened up about her illustrious career in show business. She is an American singer, chart-topping vocalist of the late ’50s and early ’60s, as well as an actress.

She was born Concetta Rosemarie Franconero on December 12, 1937, in an Italian neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. Encouraged by her laborer father, she was musical from the start and at age four gave her first concert at the Olympic Amusement Park, where she played the accordion and sang “Anchors Aweigh.”

When she landed an appearance on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” Godfrey suggested she change her last name to the easier to pronounce name “Francis.”

Her MGM movies include “Where the Boys Are” (1960), “Follow the Boys” (1963), “Looking for Love” (1964), and “When the Boys Meet the Girls” (1966). “I should have made more movies or better movies,” she said.

Music

Francis’ albums showcased her wide spectrum of musical styles, which range from R&B/soul, jazz, country, Broadway standards, children’s music, waltzes, to inspirational and spiritual music, as well as traditional tunes from various groups. Throughout her career, she has sold in excess of 100 million units worldwide.

Her iconic songs include “Where the Boys Are,” “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own,” “Lipstick on Your Collar,” “My Happiness,” “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool,” “Stupid Cupid,” and “Who’s Sorry Now.” She claimed “Mama” as her personal favorite tune in her extensive catalog.

‘Who’s Sorry Now’

She credits her father for playing a major part in her success. “My father was the one that insisted on ‘Who’s Sorry Now.’ I fought him all the way,” she said. “Although I didn’t want to do that song, we had 16 minutes left in a session in the studio, so my dad told me to record it even if he had to nail me that microphone. I did it in 1.5 takes, and I had a big hit thanks to my father.”

“My father also encouraged me to record in foreign languages. I’ve sung in German, Japanese, Italian, and Hebrew, among other languages,” she said.

For young and aspiring singers, she said, “You have to be able to take rejection because you will get a lot of ‘no’s’ before you get a good response. Also, timing and luck have a great deal to do with that.”

“It’s amazing to me that people still remember me after all of these years. I guess that they still just like my music,” she said.

On being an artist in the digital age, she responded, “I am old-fashioned, I still play my record player. People like the nostalgia of vinyl, they like to have something to hold in their hand. People miss that.”

Trauma Campaign of Mental Health of America

In May of 2010, Connie was named as the National Spokesperson for the Trauma Campaign of Mental Health of America, for the one million returning servicemen and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “That was important to me because I spent eight years in a mental hospital so it was very important for me to do something to help the mentally ill,” she said.

In 2011, her dream came true. After she fought hard to launch a national telethon produced by famed producer, Gary Smith, which she co-hosted with Alan Alda and Joseph Mantegna, the Homeward Bound Telethon became a reality. It raised funds to aid our returning veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. “I did that for the veterans that were suffering from PTSD,” she said. “I was joined by Gary Smith, Alan Alda, and Joe Mantegna.”

Looking back over the last five decades, she acknowledged that she sees a “rollercoaster ride.”

Her proudest professional moments included entertaining the troops in Vietnam. “That was the most memorable experience of my life,” she admitted.

Francis is hoping to release a special album with the co-operation of Universal Music where some of her original MGM recordings have been “converted” to duets with the addition of vocals from her recently deceased companion, Tony Ferretti. They are also going to release a collection of tracks exclusively owned by Connie on her own Concetta Records label. “We have some new releases coming up,” she foreshadowed. “I am very excited about them.”

She opened up about doing live shows vs. recording in the studio. “I prefer doing live performances because I have always loved the immediate gratification that you get from the live audience,” she said. “I love recording in the studio because you have the greatest bands, and you heard yourself at your best. Making records was so important to me, I was a perfectionist.”

On life during the pandemic, she said, “Like everyone else, I have been housebound.” “If everyone would get vaccinated that would be the silver lining,” she said. “If the polio vaccine wasn’t mandatory, and people didn’t get vaccinated, we would still have polio today. COVID will exist as long as people are not vaccinated, it will be with us for a long time.”

If she were to have any superpower, she noted that it would be to “cure cancer.”

Concetta Records

Francis formed her own recording company, Concetta Records so that her thousands of songs will be readily available to her fans all over the world.

Mysteriously enough, Francis has not been inducted into the coveted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is quite a glaring omission, since she has influenced countless artists, especially women, that followed in her footsteps. She was a true pioneer and trailblazer. “I am not alone. Neil Sedaka and Paul Anka are not in there either. It is really political,” she said.

On the title of the current chapter of her life, she said, “Enjoying my Retirement.”

Success and fans

The living legend defined the word success as “making friends in life.” “I am very rich in my friends. I have wonderful friends that have shared my life with me for 40 and 50 years. They are as important to me today as they always have been,” she said.

For her dedicated fans, Francis said, “The fans that have been with me all of these decades are my friends today.”

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