Connie Francis was the most commercially successful female singer of the early Rock and Roll era, charting dozens of Pop singles, many of them romance-themed ballads in the vein of her signature hits “Where the Boys Are” and “Who’s Sorry Now.”
Born Concetta Maria Franconero in Newark, New Jersey, Francis was the daughter of first-generation Italian immigrants who encouraged her to play accordion and sing. She was performing publicly by age four, and spent her childhood entertaining at local parties and talent contests.
Francis got her stage name when at age 14 she appeared on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, and Godfrey, having trouble pronouncing her last name, suggested she change it. (He also suggested she ditch the accordion.) Francis subsequently became a regular on Godfrey’s television and radio shows.
She also found work recording song demos for publishers, which eventually led to a deal with MGM Records. After a long string of singles that failed to generate significant sales she was about to quit the music business when at father’s urging, she cut a version of the 1923 song “Who’s Sorry Now?” Francis was dubious about a song she considered corny, but her father was proven right when the single was discovered by Dick Clark, who featured the song on his radio and television shows. With Clark’s support, the single became a million seller and the first of over 30 singles Francis would send to the Top 40.
Francis recorded in a variety of styles and flirted with Rock and Roll several times, most successfully with her 1958 hit “Stupid Cupid,” but spent most of her career know as a romantic balladeer. Throughout the 60s she was one of the country’s most popular female vocalists, her fame spread through nightclub, television, and movie appearances.
Toward the end of the decade, Francis’ success waned, and she spent several years in retirement. In 1974 she returned to performing, but her life took a series of tragic turns. First a savage attack in her motel room after a 1974 concert left Francis devastated and struggling with mental illness, and she went into a long period of seclusion. During this time a botched sinus operation left her unable to sing for several years; not long afterward her brother, a union official, was murdered in a Mob hit in New Jersey. Francis was subsequently diagnosed with manic depression, and spent years in mental hospitals, committed against her will by her father. Francis recovered, however, and returned to public life, she currently splits her time between performing and volunteer work. She published a memoir in 1984; a second one is in the works, as is a Broadway musical based on her life.