Sinatra exhibit celebrates 100 years

Posted April 6, 2016


At this point, it is almost satisfying to hear people negatively compare Miami to other major cities around the world when it comes to aspects such as art, history and culture. Both visitors and residents sometimes shrug at the notion of Miami-Dade County boasting history.

For any and all doubters, the HistoryMiami Museum is one stop in South Florida that would effectively summarize how they are wrong. Located in the heart of downtown Miami, HistoryMiami exhibits the county’s rich history and presents the greater South Florida region as a cultural intersection of North and South America.

While the museum is technically a history museum, the exhibits and presentations include some incredibly diverse objects, artifacts and artworks. One of this month’s most anticipated exhibitions is one entitled “Sinatra: An American Icon.”

As the name suggests, in celebration of singer and actor Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, the HistoryMiami Museum will host a multi-media exhibition exploring the life of the music legend. The exhibition traces 100 years of Sinatra’s career and impact on American life, music and culture, from the start of his life in New Jersey all through glamorous superstardom.

The exhibition exists because of Sinatra’s historic connections and relationship to the city of Miami. By the mid-20th century, not only had Sinatra performed at many local venues, but he had also shot several movies and television programs on location in the region. On view are concert programs, movie and television memorabilia, and other artifacts that tell Sinatra’s story in Miami.

The museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in 1979, and is part of the nation’s elite history museums. Only one in four history museums in the country are accredited by the AAM, with HistoryMiami being one of only two in Miami-Dade County to meet these standards.

The one of a kind exhibition chronicles the spectacular rise of Sinatra’s music career, his Hollywood success, personal life, and humanitarian work. The exhibition also includes never-before-seen photos, rare correspondence, family keepsakes, personal items, artwork, and, of course, music, to offer a look into Sinatra’s legacy.

Many boards showing his career timeline had original records hung above them. Some of his shoes shine behind glass, all perfectly complimenting his classic suits. One room was entirely dedicated to his beginning in Hoboken, N.J. It featured a replica of a train shaking and moving with old sound effects and a screen mimicking a receding train station.

The entrance of the exhibition on the second floor of the museum (above what is currently the native people’s of Florida culture and history exhibition) has artwork reminiscent of New York Museum of Modern Art. Small, circular screens dangling from the high ceiling combine to create one large, black and white video of Sinatra performing.

The murals on the wall give a basic introduction to Sinatra’s history, which a visitor should read completely, if anything just to correctly make their way through the exhibition.

With Sinatra’s voice serenading the empty exhibition, his history on the wall leads the reader into an arts and memorabilia room. A small replica of the average Sinatra stage took most of the room’s space. It was classic in its simplicity: a dark brown stage with a stool and a small, low table with a glass of whisky on the rocks and an ashtray almost as big as the stool’s surface, complete with cigarette holders. In the center of the room were two versions of his suits, complete with a black and white fedora. Not far away from the suits are large papers with new clothing designs, presumably for his South Florida performances.

The next room offers a photography gallery by famous jazz photographer Herman Leonard. Leonard has classic photos of everyone from Duke Ellington to Billie Holiday. He believed Sinatra was a true jazz singer. Dozens of famous photos of the man behind the microphone are plastered all over the walls.

The absolute highlight of that particular room was the small booth where a visitor can sing along to one of two songs: “Luck Be A Lady” and “That’s Life”. “That’s Life” was written and recorded in 1966 and happened to have sing-along lyrics on screen. Even better, the booth was soundproof, giving me the opportunity to sing the song as I heard it for the first time.

The Sinatra exhibition is very representative of a portion of Miami’s cultural history. It exists, but most of it still being written. While Sinatra isn’t exactly ancient history, this centennial shows just how quickly time passes and how history creates itself in the region. Decades from now there will be an exhibition dedicated to things like today’s Ultra Music Festival. When the time comes, visitors will stand in awe at what Miami has been a host to, especially when it comes to music and popular culture.

  • Exhibition Dates: March 4 – June 5, 2016
  • Location: HistoryMiami, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami, Fla. 33130
  • Contact: Phone: 305-375-1492, e-mail:
  • Tickets: $8 for students/seniors, $13 regular price.
  • Hours: Mondays-Saturdays,10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays, Noon -5 p.m.