Childhood & Early Years
Connie Francis was born as Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero on December 12, 1938 in Ironbound Newark, New Jersey. Her father, George Franconero, Sr. was a dockworker and a roof-contractor while her mother, Ida Franconero née Ferrari-di Vito, was a homemaker. She had a younger brother named George Franconero, Jr.
George Franconero, Sr. was a natural entertainer, having certain musical ambition, which remained unfulfilled. Therefore, when little Concetta began to show her musical talent, he happily passed his ambition on to her.
As soon as Concetta turned three, her father enrolled her into a music school for accordion lessons. He envisaged that when she grew up she would open an accordion school. But soon he realized that his daughter, with her strong and tuneful voice, had even greater potentials.
Prompted by her father, Concetta began to appear at different talent contests, pageants, lodge celebrations, church socials and other neighborhood festivities from the age of four, singing and playing accordion. Living in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood, she also began to pick up Yiddish, soon becoming fluent in it.
In 1950, 12-year-old Concetta secured the first place on Arthur Godfrey's ‘Startime Talent Scout’ as a singer and an accordion player. It was during this period that she changed her stage name to Connie Francis on the advice of Godfrey, who found it difficult to pronounce Franconero.
Impressed by her singing, Godfrey also suggested that she give up the accordion and concentrate on singing, a suggestion, she happily followed. After the three-week talent hunt was over, she remained with Startime, performing once a week for four years.
All along, she continued with her formal education, being enrolled at Newark Arts High School in 1951. In 1953, her family moved to Belleville, New Jersey, where she enrolled at Belleville High School, graduating from there in 1955. By then, she had established herself as a child entertainer.
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In 1955, ‘Startime’ went off the air. By then, Connie’s father, George Franconero, and her manager, George Scheck, realized that her days as a child artist were numbered. They now secured forged identity card for Connie, with which she began to sing at different clubs and lounges.
They also raised money for recording a four-song demo tape, which they hoped to sell to some well-known recording company. However, the demo tape was rejected by most companies, mainly because Connie was yet to develop a style of her own; she was simply good in copying other stars. .
Finally Connie signed a contract with MGM Records for ten singles and one duet. It came mainly because one of the tracks was entitled ‘Freddy’, which was also the name of the company co-executive, Harry A. Myerson’s son and he thought that the song would be a good birthday present.
'Freddy’ was released in June 1955 as Connie’s debut single; but it failed to make any mark and was a commercial failure and so were her next eight singles.
In 1956, she recorded two songs, ‘I Never Had A Sweetheart' and 'Little Blue Wren', for Tuesday Weld in the film ‘Rock, Rock, Rock’.
In the fall of 1957, she enjoyed her first chart success with ‘The Majesty of Love’, a duet single with Marvin Rainwater. It was backed by her ninth solo single ‘You, My Darlin’ You’. The duet peaked at number 93 on Billboard's Hot 100. Later the single also sold well.
In spite of the success, she was informed by MGM that her contract would not be renewed after her tenth solo recording. By then, she had also decided to give up singing as a career option and accept a fellowship in radio and television production at the New York University.
On October 2, 1957, Connie Francis recorded a cover version of the 1923 song ‘Who's Sorry Now?’ at her father’s insistence, who believed that with modern beat, the song would appeal to both the generations. On the B-side was ‘You Were Only Foolin' (While I Was Fallin' in Love’).
Released in November 1957, ‘Who's Sorry Now?’ was initially ignored. But when on January 1, 1958, Dick Clark, best remembered for hosting ‘American Bandstand’, played the song on his program; its popularity began to rise. On February 15, 1958, she sang it on Clark’s ‘Saturday Night Beechnut Show’.
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By the spring of 1958, ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ rose to number 4 on Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on UK Singles Chart. Moreover, she was voted the "Best Female Vocalist" by American Bandstand viewers.
Also in 1958, MGM Records renewed her contract and in April released her first album, ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ However, the period of her struggle was not yet over.
Her next song, ‘I’m Sorry I Made You Cry’, was a relative failure, peaking at number 36 on the chart and ‘Heartache’, on the B side, was worse, failing to chart at all. Desperate, she now began to look for her next hit and found it in ‘Stupid Cupid, written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield.
On 18 June 1958, Francis recorded ‘Stupid Cupid’ on at Metropolitan Studio. On the B side was ‘Carolina Moon’, which she had recorded on 9 June at the same studio. Together, they made a double sided hit with ‘Stupid Cupid’ peaking at number 14 on Billboard Hot 100.
After ‘Stupid Cupid’, Connie Francis continued to churn out hits, recording ‘My Happiness’, her childhood favorite, on November 6, 1958. It reached number 2 on Billboard Hot 100.
In March 1959, Francis released her second studio album, ‘The Exciting Connie Francis’. In June, she had a double sided hit with ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’ and ‘Frankie’. While the former reached the US Top Ten and peaked at No. 5 on Billboard Hot 100, the later peaked at No. 9.
In August 1959, she released her third album, ‘My Thanks to You’. In the same month, she traveled to London, where she recorded her fourth studio album, 'Connie Francis Sings Italian Favorite'. In November 1959, she released another of her hit single, 'Among My Souvenirs'.
Other albums released in 1959 were ‘Christmas in My Heart’, ‘Connie’s Greatest Hits’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Million Sellers’, ‘Country and Western Golden Hits’ and ‘Connie Francis Sings Fun Songs for Children’. By then, her popularity has reached its peak in USA and Europe.
In 1960, she reached the number 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100, first with 'Everybody's Somebody's Fool' and then with 'My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own'. Also in the same year, she released four more albums; one in English, others in Jewish, Spanish and Italian.
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In 1961, she debuted in films, appearing as Angie in ‘Where the Boys Are’. However, it was ‘Vacation’, a song recorded on July 18, 1962, that brought her the final Top Ten Hit. 'Don't Break the Heart That Loves You' was another hit of the year.
In 1963, she published her first book, ‘For Every Young Heart’. But sometime from the middle of 1960s, with the arrival of the Beatles, her chart success on Billboard Hot 100 began to decline. Her last top-40 entry was 'Be Anything (but Be Mine)' (1964).
In spite of her set back on Billboard Hot 100, she remained a top concert draw and continued to top other charts such as Adult Contemporary Chart and Country Chart. In Europe, she remained as popular as before and continued to have chart hits in UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.
In late 1969, her contract with MGM Records ran out. By then, she was tired of uninterrupted recordings, traveling, live shows, and film works and therefore decided not to renew her contract.
After the expiry of her contract with MGM Records, Connie Francis lived for some time in semiretirement, returning to the studio in 1973, recording ‘(Should I) Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?’. Its modest success inspired her to perform once again,
On November 8, 1974, she met with a tragedy, being raped and nearly killed by an unknown man in a hotel room in Jericho, New York. She had gone there to attend the Westbury Music Fair. The incident threw her into a great depression and for few years, she rarely left her home.
In 1977, she underwent a nasal surgery, which damaged her voice and she had to undergo further surgery and vocal lessons to regain her voice. Finally in 1978, she returned to the recording studio to cut her first album in the post MGM era, ‘Who’s Happy Now?’
In 1981, her younger brother, a lawyer, was killed in a mafia style attack. It affected her very much and her mental equilibrium began to waver. As an antidote she began to make public performances, trying to pick up her life.
In 1980s and 1990s, she released a few singles in English and German. Her last five albums were ‘Was ich bin’ (1978, German), ‘I’m Me Again’ (1981), ‘Where the Hits Are’ (1989), 'Jive Connie – Connie Francis Party Powe' (1992, German) and ‘The Return Concert Live At Trump's Castle’ (1996).
Personal Life & Legacy
Connie Francis married four times; but none of them lasted long. Her first husband was Dick Kannellis, a press agent and entertainment director for the Aladdin Hotel. They got married sometime in 1964; but divorced four months later.
Her second marriage was to Izzy Marrion, a hair-salon owner. They got married in 1971 and divorced ten months later in 1972.
Her third marriage was comparatively long lasting. In 1973, she married Joseph Garzilli, restaurateur and travel-agency owner and remained married to him for five years, the union ending in a divorce in 1978. The couple had a son named Joseph Garzilli Jr.
Her fourth marriage was to TV producer Bob Parkinson; with whom she remained married for eight months, (1986-1986).
Early in her career, she became romantically involved with singer and actor Bobby Darin. However, her dominating father disapproved of the match and almost drove away Darin at a gun point. Although they met only twice after the incident Francis still considers Darin the greatest love of her life.