Tales from the Turntable: How the music of Frank Sinatra has been tied to over a dozen murders 

Frank Sinatra in Capitol Studios, circa October 1957, during the recording of Come Fly with Me. A cropped version of the photograph was published on page 15 of the November 28, 1957, issue of the jazz magazine DownBeat (Vol. 24, No. 24). The accompanying story, titled “Sinatra: He’s Frank” and written by John Tynan, detailed the entertainer’s preparations before the premiere of the second Frank Sinatra Show (1957–58) on ABC. Photo from Wikimedia.

Welcome to the first edition of Tales from the Turntable! There’s no shortage of bizarre happenings and events in music history, and I’ll be presenting a new story here each week highlighting all the strangeness that music has to offer. 

Out of all the famous events in music history, few manage to end with any real damage. While some may end in loss of a career, or loss of money to some extent, loss of life is something that is rarely seen. 

Since it’s one of the scariest days of the year, Friday the 13th, today we’ll be looking at a particularly gruesome phenomenon in music.  

Almost everyone has heard the classic Frank Sinatra tune, “My Way”. It’s a cultural symbol of the crooner era, and one of the most iconic pieces of Americana in the past 80 years. What many might not know is the dark and bloodied reputation the tune has in Asia. Specifically in the Philippines, “My Way” has been associated with bloodshed at several karaoke bars across the nation, prompting most to pull the song entirely from rotation.  

This bizarre string of crimes made headlines in 2007 after the killing of a 29-year-old in the municipality of San Mateo, Rizal. At a karaoke bar in late May, Romy Baligula got up on stage to sing a rendition of Sinatra’s song, much to the chagrin of many others in the bar. While Baligula had fun singing the tune, several others noted how tone deaf he seemed to be.  

One security guard, a man by the name of Robilito Ortega, started to heckle the singer for his off-key crooning. When Baligula refused to stop singing, Ortega drew his .38-caliber pistol and opened fire on the man singing. Baligula was pronounced dead on the scene, and Ortega was arrested not long after.  

There have been at least 12 documented murders relating to Sinatra’s “My Way” at Filipino karaoke bars since the late 1990s. The phenomenon has spread to bars in other countries, as well. In 2012, an altercation relating to a 4-year-old singing “My Way” at a karaoke bar in China led to two men being brutally killed.  

Some in the Philippines believe the song to be superstitious and even fear hearing it in public. As a result, there have been several attempts to find an answer for these gruesome events. Several scientists at the University of the Philippines believe the murders to be a combination of several factors. The biggest factor seems to be the location; bars are full of people drinking, and violence erupting in bars after heavy drinking is not a rare occurrence. Psychologists have also noted the triumphant nature of the song’s melody. 

The answer may also be found in the song’s lyrics, as they are inherently arrogant and evoke feelings of pride within the singer. The triumphant melody in the chorus combined with the seemingly pompous lyric “I did it my way” causes many to feel self-important. This prowess associated with the song creates a boastful mood within the drunken singer, which can quickly devolve into violence.  

Sadly, some report that this issue might not be unique to “My Way.” Karaoke rage — though it may sound silly — is a real psychological phenomenon that extends to more songs and countries than just “My Way” in the Philippines. Although it is predominantly found in Asia, acts of violence due to karaoke can be found all over the world. Most notably, actor Ezra Miller was arrested in Hawaii for heckling and assaulting a karaoke singer. The nature of karaoke often sparks confrontation, as it’s likely that songs will be played multiple times in a row, and even more likely that the patron’s vocal chops will be abysmal. 

While it may seem fun to go out with friends and sing karaoke, it just might be best to steer clear of “My Way.” 

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