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My Signature Song: Frank Sinatra's 'Cycles'


We've been hearing your signature songs this summer, songs that mean so much to you, they almost become part of your identity. Today it's Tanti Brownley's turn to share hers. She's 21, from Newport News, Va. In her house when she was a kid, there was plenty of music. Her brother liked rap. Her mom, R&B. Brownley loved country music. But one day, she fell head over heels for a very different sound.

TANTI BROWNLEY: I was 13 years old. I was at home with my mom. We were sitting on the couch, watching TV. I don't even remember what the show was. But in the background of it was "Fly Me To The Moon" by Frank Sinatra.


FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Fly me to the moon. Let me play among the stars.

BROWNLEY: Just his voice struck me, that I had never heard someone sing that way before. And so I immediately Googled him, and I fell down the rabbit hole.


SINATRA: (Singing) What a world, what a life. I'm in love.

BROWNLEY: I watched all the movies that he was in. I have posters, still, of Frank Sinatra. And I listen to pretty much everything that he ever recorded, which is a lot. (Laughter). And I finally got to "Cycles," which is profound, and...


SINATRA: (Singing) So I'm down, and so I'm out. But so are many others.

BROWNLEY: In "Cycles," he starts off the song just listing all of these terrible things that had happened to him.


SINATRA: (Singing) My gal just up and left last week. Friday, I got fired.

BROWNLEY: I was in an advanced program in school so I had a lot of work that I was feeling overwhelmed by and was having changing friendships and people falling in and out with each other. So, you know, having never dealt with that, that was kind of my entire world, (laughter), that I felt was changing, and I wasn't sure how to cope with that.


SINATRA: (Singing) So I feel like tryin' to hide my head 'neath these covers.

BROWNLEY: It was, like, a sadness that I had never felt because I was feeling lonely and I was feeling very overwhelmed. And most of the people that I had grown up with, they're very strong people and don't like to show other people their emotions. So I was used to bottling it up. Or if you cried, just sucking that right back in and the next day pretending like it didn't happen.


SINATRA: (Singing) I've been told and I believe that life is meant for livin'.

BROWNLEY: "Cycles," it's all about feeling the sadness and owning your sadness and just saying that all of these awful things in my life are happening, and I'm allowed to be sad right now. And that's just - it was astounding to me to hear someone say that.


SINATRA: (Singing) So I'll keep this smile awhile and see what tomorrow brings.

BROWNLEY: Going forward in the years since, where I felt that sadness again, I tried to know that eventually I won't be sad. I remind myself that I always come out stronger than before.


SINATRA: (Singing) There isn't much that I have learned...

PFEIFFER: That was Tanti Brownley of Newport News, Va., sharing her signature song, "Cycles," by Frank Sinatra.


SINATRA: (Singing) ...Except that life keeps runnin'.

[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this report, we incorrectly imply that Frank Sinatra wrote the song "Cycles." It was actually written by Gayle Caldwell.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 7, 2019 at 11:00 PM CST
In this report, we incorrectly imply that Frank Sinatra wrote the song "Cycles." It was actually written by Gayle Caldwell.
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