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Greatest entertainer ever? Frank Sinatra, not Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's death has many people proclaiming him the greatest entertainer ever but, with all due respect, that title doesn't belong to him.

In determining the greatest, you have to give an edge to those who could sing, dance and act at the highest level, and whose talent can be considered timeless.

Jackson commanded the stage and captivated audiences as a singer and dancer. That makes him one of the greatest performers, maybe the greatest. His talent merged perfectly with the advent of MTV.

But he doesn't have acting credentials on his resume, except for a role in The Wiz. Yes, he acted in videos, but largely played himself.

If we adopt this triple-threat criteria, my choice is Frank Sinatra in a slight edge over Sammy Davis Jr. Yes, those choices reveal my age and indicate my soul is even older.

But anyone who grew up listening to Ol' Blue Eyes will swear by his talent as a singer. He deservedly earned the nickname "the Voice," and he's credited with pioneering the "concept album."

He couldn't moonwalk, but his dance moves were respectable. As an actor, he made countless movies and won an Oscar for his supporting role in 1952's From Here to Eternity.

What really distinguishes Sinatra is that he's still a cultural icon 11 years after his death and decades after his prime. Just this week, iTunes released a new collection of Sinatra songs covered by modern artists such as Maroon 5.

Sinatra's influence also can be found in singers such as Michael Buble, and even the late rapper Tupac Shakur counted himself as a fan.

Davis surely is a surprising second in the minds of many, but that's because his abilities as a singer, actor, dancer and musician (he played trumpet and drums) have largely been lost on this generation.

The remarkable similarities between Davis and Jackson also intrigue. They both started as child stars. Their private lives also created controversy, with Davis drawing ire from blacks and whites because of his interracial relationships and conversion to Judaism.

Yet Jackson never faced the kind of racial hatred endured by Davis, who performed in Las Vegas casinos in the 1950s but couldn't stay or gamble there. Davis' efforts eventually integrated the casinos, but he could have accomplished even more in a modern era less fraught with racism.

Who else belongs in the conversation? Elvis, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand and Dean Martin. Add more recent stars such as Prince and Madonna to the debate, even though their acting abilities aren't glorious. Consider Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and Beyonce for future lists.

For now, Sinatra answers the time-tested question better than anyone. We'll see where Jackson stands 20 years from now.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper's greatest entertainers ever

1. Frank Sinatra, 2. Sammy Davis Jr., 3. Michael Jackson, 4. Elvis, 5. Prince, 6. Bing Crosby, 7. Barbra Streisand, 8. Madonna, 9. Gene Kelly, 10. Desi Arnaz. Honorable mention (alphabetical order): Julie Andrews, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Beyonce, Charlie Chaplin, Celia Cruz, Doris Day, Jamie Foxx, Hugh Jackman, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Bette Midler, Paul Robeson, Ginger Rogers, Will Smith, John Travolta.

Greatest entertainer ever? Frank Sinatra, not Michael Jackson 07/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 10, 2009 9:41pm]
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