True genius transcends age, genre, gender, race, and even language. It doesn’t matter that Picasso painted differently; Beethoven worked his later years deaf; Georgia O’Keeffe was a woman; Frank Sinatra was from Italian parents; or Hank Williams sang country – talented artists will be recognized and appreciated across the world, without the limiting presence of prejudice.
With respect to the latter, Williams, “The Hillbilly Shakespeare,” wrote rich, emotive songs that broke through the surface to reach the heart of what people were feeling. You could hear the heartache in his voice, which is part of his genius as a performer, but the lyrics stand alone, bared like a raw nerve exposed to the source of the decay and pain, those words vulnerable and ready to be manipulated by another vocalist with suitable ability. So, it may seem surprising at first that Frank Sinatra was pursued to do an album covering the songs of Hank Williams, but it makes perfect sense.
In a recent interview with musician and record producer Don Was, he spoke about how he and Bob Dylan recognized the genius of pairing this seemingly unlikely musical duo. Unfortunately, it would seem Frank’s health was not at a point that would make this undertaking feasible, despite the producers’ willingness to bring the equipment to him, “Duets” style, or even come to his living room with nothing but a piano as accompaniment.
This would have been a significant album and the concept must have stuck with Dylan because he made it his own with the release of “Shadows in the Night,” a dedication of sorts to Frank Sinatra as all the recordings are songs “The Voice” made famous.
What songs would have been on the album? That’s hard to say, but cue “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and think about Frank and you’ll realize what a marvelous bit of genius this could have been.