Sinatra graced the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium stage on two occasions, for three concerts in 1965 and two more in 1977. The 1965 Forest Hills Music Festival marked Sinatra’s first commercial appearance in New York in eight years, and he opened its sixth season with shows on July 8, 9, and 10.
The producers were forced to add the third concert, and each gig was a sellout of 15,000 fans, who snatched up tickets at $6.95 and traveled from as far away as Atlanta for the shows. Count Basie opened the concert and then accompanied Sinatra, and the 16-piece band performed arrangements by conductor and composer Quincy Jones.
Sinatra performed 20 standards in 90 minutes, including “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “I Only Have Eyes For You.” On “Hello, Dolly!,” Corona resident Louis Armstrong made an appearance and Sinatra improvised “Hello, Louis.”
The previous weekend, Sinatra landed in a helicopter for his show at the Newport Jazz Festival, and he hoped to make a similar entrance at Forest Hills Stadium, but the West Side Tennis Club decided to prioritize keeping its lawn greener.
Sinatra had no choice but to settle for a limo, and after each show he was whisked away to Manhattan.
Television host Bill Boggs, who can be seen on BillBoggsTV on YouTube, has interviewed everyone from Frank Sinatra and Burt Bacharach to Sammy Davis, Jr. and Barry Manilow. He was at the July 10th show.
“In 1965, Frank was doing many recordings and consistently making movies, and it was rare for him to be performing a concert in a city at the time,” Boggs said. “If you wanted to see him live back then, it was basically Vegas or Miami. This was his first commercial gig in New York in eight years, so Forest Hills was special to him and the audiences.”
Over the course of 34 years, Boggs saw Sinatra around 75 times and explained what made him great.
“Frank had the ability to make an emotional connection with you through the song that brought you close to him as a performer, and he commanded the stage with an extremely powerful force,” he said.
Boggs said that Sinatra’s ability as an actor enabled him to “inhabit” the lyrics. His mother saw Sinatra as a bobby-soxer.
“I asked what was so special when you first saw him, and she said ‘it felt like he was singing just for me,’” Boggs said. “When I interviewed him, I mentioned it, and Frank said, ‘I try to put myself in the position of someone who would be experiencing what I’m singing about, and I try to make the case in that way.’”
In August 1965, as a cross-promotion between the Forest Hills Inn and the stadium, wet cement was sent to Sinatra and Barbra Streisand for their handprints. After the blocks hardened, they were inserted at the Inn’s “Celebrity Sidewalk,” similar to the prints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
Sinatra’s shows on July 15 and July 16, 1977, were also sellouts, despite a bit of inflation with ticket prices at $10, $15, or $25, as well as a citywide blackout two days earlier and the serial killer Son of Sam still on the loose.
“I love that man!” said Forest Hills resident Gilda Flannery, who attended one of the shows in 1977. “He totally loved the outdoor venue, and the night was magic and the air electric.”
Joining Sinatra was special guest comedian Milton Berle, and Sinatra’s hour-long set featured “My Way,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Night and Day,” “My Kind of Town,” “It Was a Very Good Year” and “Send in the Clowns.”
Maryland resident Rae Finkelstein Treuhaft, formerly of Forest Hills, was in her late 20s at the time.
“Just seeing an icon was all that I needed,” she said. “I saw different generations together, and everyone was enjoying the concert.”
Hollywood resident Paul Mock owns every Sinatra commercial recording, including several very rare ones.
“Sinatra was in very fine voice and great spirits, and no one came near to the energy that he exuded from the stage,” he said. “Sinatra just completed filming ‘Contract on Cherry Street’ and had a gathering with those connected with the film post-concert offstage.”