Connie Francis was born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero in the Italian Down Neck, or Ironbound, neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. She is considered the most prolific and popular female rock ‘n’ roll hit-maker of the early rock era — the late 1950s to the early 1960s. After an appearance on Ford Startime, Francis was advised to change her name from Franconero to something more easily pronounceable — as well as to quit the accordion and focus on singing.
Francis’ first single, “Freddy”, (1955) met with little success. Her next nine singles were also failures, and she began to consider a career in medicine. However, a cover version of the song “Who’s Sorry Now?” (1923) by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby launched Francis into super-stardom worldwide. She recorded the song at what was to have been her final recording session for MGM; the label was about to drop her owing to her previous singles’ poor sales. Francis has said that she recorded it at the suggestion of her father, who convinced her it stood a chance of becoming a hit because it was a song adults already knew and that teenagers would dance to if it were released with a more contemporary arrangement.
The gamble paid off. On January 1, 1958, the song debuted on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand television show, and by mid-year over a million copies were sold. In April 1958, “Who’s Sorry Now” reached number one on the UK Singles Chart and number four in the USA. This was followed by many other hits over the next decade, as Connie Francis became one of the most popular vocalists in the world.
As Francis explains at each of her concerts, she began searching for a new hit immediately after her 1958 single Who’s Sorry Now? became a success. She was then introduced to Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, who played every ballad they had written to date, for Connie. After a few hours, Francis began writing in her diary while the two songwriters played the last of their ballads. After they finished their last song of the session, Francis told them that they wrote very beautiful ballads but that she considered them too intellectual for the young generation of the time. Greenfield then suggested to Sedaka a song they had written that morning for another girl group. Sedaka protested, believing that Francis would be insulted. Greenfield said that she hated all the other songs they had performed and that they had nothing more to lose. Sedaka reluctantly agreed to play Stupid Cupid with Greenfield for Francis. As soon as they finished playing the song, Francis told them that they had just played her new hit record. Francis’ song reached #14 on the Billboard charts. While Francis was writing in her diary, Sedaka asked her if he could read what she had written. After she refused, Sedaka was inspired to write The Diary, which was his first hit single. Through the rest of her early career Sedaka and Greenfield wrote many of Connie Francis’ hits such as Fallin and Where the Boys Are.
Connie specialized in downbeat ballads (often remakes of old standards) delivered in her trademark “sobbing” style, such as “My Happiness”, “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry”, “Among My Souvenirs”, “Together”, “Breakin’ In a Brand New Broken Heart”, and the Italian song “Mama”. However, she also had success with a handful of more upbeat, rock-and-roll-oriented compositions, such as “Stupid Cupid”, “Lipstick On Your Collar”, and “Vacation”.
Among Francis’ other notable performances were “In the Summer of His Years” (a tribute to slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy) and Bert Kaempfert’s “Strangers in the Night” (although the latter song is more often identified with Frank Sinatra). Both “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” went to number one on the Billboard music charts in 1960. In 1962, Francis had another number one hit with “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You”.
Francis remade many of her hits in foreign languages, including “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and her signature song, “Where the Boys Are”. Francis recorded in thirteen languages throughout her career: English, German, Swedish, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian (and its dialect Neapolitan), Hebrew, Yiddish, Japanese, Latin and Hawaiian. During a concert at the Golden Stag Festival in Brasov, Romania in March 1970, Francis performed live in Romanian. Francis’ biggest hit album in the U.S. was 1959’s Italian Favorites; she followed it with several more albums of Italian songs over the years, as well as collections of Spanish-language and Jewish songs, among others.
In the 1960 motion picture Where the Boys Are Connie was able to highlight her acting talents to a broader range of audiences. During the first half of the 1960s, she starred in three additional films: Follow the Boys (1963) (the title song of which became a No. 17 Billboard single for Francis), Looking for Love (1964), and When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965).
In 1960, Francis became the youngest headliner to sing in Las Vegas, where she played 28 days a year for nine years. In 1961, she starred in her own television special on ABC television sponsored by Brylcreem titled Kicking Sound Around, singing and acting alongside Tab Hunter, Eddie Foy Jr. and Art Carney. Francis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on July 1, 1962 with French singing star Johnny Hallyday in a show that was taped at the famous Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris, France. On July 3, 1963, she played a Command performance before Queen Elizabeth II at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland. By 1967, Francis had 35 U.S. Top 40 hits, three of which were number ones. During the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, Connie Francis performed for U.S. troops. Francis ended her recording career in 1969. She returned in 1973 with “The Answer”, a song written just for her, and soon began performing again.
Francis has always been a great fan of country music, and recorded several albums of country standards during her pop career. In 1969, she had a modest country hit with, “The Wedding Cake.” She appeared on the country charts again in 1982 with “There’s Still a Few Good Love Songs Left in Me.” Several country singers found chart success remaking Francis’ pop hits for the country market, including Marie Osmond (“Who’s Sorry Now” in 1975), Susan Raye (“My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” in 1972), Margo Smith (“Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” in 1978), and Debby Boone.
Francis’ autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now? was published in 1984.
In 2000, “Who’s Sorry Now” was named one of the Songs of the Century. Her latest CD The American Tour contains performances from recent shows. In late December 2004, Francis headlined in Las Vegas for the first time since 1989.
In March and October 2007, Francis performed to sold-out crowds at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.