In early 1982, with martial law in full swing in Poland, American TV aired a song in which Frank Sinatra, for probably the only time in his career, sang in Polish.
The story of the song aired on that January evening goes back to 1947, when Sinatra starred in the movie The Miracle of the Bells. Set in America, the movie tells the story of Polish-born actress Olga Treskovna (played by Alida Valli), who pursues an acting career but dies of TB during the shooting of her first film, Joan of Arc. In the movie Frank Sinatra played the role of a pastor, Paul, who tries to grant Olga's last wish, which is to be buried in her hometown, Coaltown (coal dust inhalation is likely the cause of Olga contracting the fatal disease).
In the movie Sinatra and Valli sing a song entitled Ever Homeward together. Sinatra sings the English version of the lyrics, while Valli does the Polish part. The piece is an old Polish folk song originally composed by Kazimierz Lubomirski in 1850 (the Polish original is called O gwiazdeczko coś błyszczała [Little Star, You Shone...].
That same year (1947), Sinatra recorded the song for Columbia Records singing two stanzas in Polish, along other stanzas in English. The song was then released as a single in 1948. Here's Sinatra singing in Polish at 02:00:
The song made an unexpected comeback some 34 years later, aired on national TV as part of the special show Let Poland Be Poland! The show, broadcast on 31st January to many audiences around the world, was meant to be a gesture of support for the Solidarity movement and for Polish people after the imposition of martial law in December 1981.
The programme featured artists and politicians sharing words of support, among them Max von Sydow, Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, John Fraser, Glenda Jackson, Charlton Heston, Orson Welles and Kirk Douglas (who reminisced about Polish girls he met back on his trips to Poland decades erlier). There were also Polish dissidents and artists like Czesław Miłosz or Adam Makowicz. Among them was also Sinatra.
In his short statement the singer first alluded to the recent imposition of the martial law in Poland (‘When the troubles began in Poland this winter’) and then adds:
If I were a politician I'd probably make a speech right now, but since I'm not, here's the song.
The song is indeed very powerful and moving – the inimitable Slavic melancholy of the melody serving probably better than any speech would have.
Sinatra also suggested that the original Polish title of the song is Wolne serce (which is how the Polish lyrics begin). But what did Sinatra actually sing in Polish? His lyrics were not in the original Polish song – a poem written in 1842 by Wiktoryn Zieliński. The American star must have gotten hold of a later version...
Here are the Polish lyrics sung by Sinatra. One has to say he's doing quite well with his Polish pronunciation – though he definitely does it His Way...
Wolne serce, lekka dusza
mam gdzieś dom mój blisko
jak dzień spłynął rok
bo blisko jest już me ognisko
Choć już obce co tam będzie
serce do was płynie
to jest dom mój o nim śniłem
zawsze tam z oddali
[Free heart, light soul
My home is nearby
The year flew by like a day
Because my hearth is close
Even if I don’t know what will be
My heart goes out to you
This is the home I dreamt of
Always there in the distance]
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, 2 December 2015