The Out-of-This-World Story Behind “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra

“Fly Me to the Moon” was one of the first songs played in outer space. The song traveled a long path before it reached beyond the stratosphere. The definitive version is by Frank Sinatra singing a Quincy Jones arrangement with Count Basie’s Orchestra. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra.

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Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like on
A-Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, baby, kiss me


Bart Howard composed a song called “In Other Words” in 1954. He accompanied cabaret performers and had Cole Porter in mind when he wrote it. A publisher suggested changing some of the lyrics from “fly me to the moon” to “take me to the moon.” Howard kept it as written. Years later, Howard said, “It took me 20 years to find out how to write a song in 20 minutes.”

He presented the song at the Blue Angel Cabaret in New York City with performances by Felicia Sanders.

Fill my heart with song and let me sing forevermore
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words, I love you

Kaye Ballard was the first person to record the song commercially. She released “In Other Words” on Decca Records as the flip side of “Lazy Afternoon” in 1954. Other versions were recorded by Chris Connor, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Portia Nelson, Nancy Wilson, Eydie Gormé, and Peggy Lee. In 1960, Lee performed the song on The Ed Sullivan Show. Many people referred to the song as “Fly Me to the Moon,” and Lee approached Howard to ask him about officially changing the name. Connie Francis recorded the song in Italian as “Portami Con Te” and in Spanish as “Llévame a la Luna.”


Vesto una volta se partirai
e so che partirai.
Ma non so posa parole—
c’è tu, propria tu, te ne andrai

In 1962, Joe Harnell recorded an instrumental bossa nova version that hit the charts called “Fly Me to the Moon.” The song earned a Grammy award in the Best Performance by an Orchestra – For Dancing. Julie London and Paul Anka recorded vocal versions as well.


Llévame a la luna
porque allí quiero estar
dame maravillas
de ese mundo aguantar

Sinatra, Jones, and Basie

In 1964, Quincy Jones changed the time signature from 3/4 to 4/4 and wrote an arrangement for the Count Basie Orchestra to back Sinatra. The version on the album It Might as Well Be Swing is considered the definitive version. Basie himself recorded an instrumental version a year earlier on his album This Time. Howard estimated there were more than 100 versions of the song by the time Sinatra recorded it. In 1968, Bobby Womack released a version on Minit Records. By 1995, more than 300 versions of the song had been recorded.

Fill my heart with song
Let me sing forevermore
You are all I long for, all I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words
In other words
I love you

Out of This World

In 1969, during the Apollo 10 space mission that orbited the moon, astronaut Gene Cernan took an RCA cassette with him. The Sony TC-50 portable cassette player had to be specially designed to function in lower gravity. Boeing employee Al Bishop recorded the songs and wanted to include popular songs of the day and songs with lyrical content related to space travel, specifically, lunar travel. Each astronaut had different tapes. Cernan’s contained:

“Houston,” by Dean Martin
“Come Fly with Me,” by Frank Sinatra
“Fly Me to the Moon,” by Frank Sinatra
“Up, Up and Away,” by Andy Williams
“Something Stupid,” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra
“Sentimental Journey,” by Acker Bilk
“Greensleeves,” performed by Acker Bilk
“Stranger on the Shore,” performed by Acker Bilk
“Welcome to My World,” performed by Dean Martin
“Little Old Wine Drinker Me,” performed by Dean Martin
“30 More Miles to San Diego,” performed by Dean Martin
“Moon River,” by Henry Mancini
“Moonlight Serenade,” performed by Frank Sinatra
“When I Fall in Love,” performed by Eartha Kitt
“Unforgettable,” performed by Eartha Kitt
“Green Fields,” performed by The Brothers Four
“Rock Island Line,” performed by The Brothers Four
“Summertime,” performed by The Brothers Four
“Oh Shenandoah,” performed by The Brothers Four
“A Very Good Year,” performed by The Brothers Four
“Honey Wind,” performed by The Brothers Four
“The Waves Roll Out,” performed by The Brothers Four
“It’s Over,” performed by Dinah Shore
“Trains and Boats and Planes,” performed by Dinah Shore
“Days of Wine and Roses,” performed by Dinah Shore
“Oh Lonesome Me,” performed by Dinah Shore
“I Really Don’t Want to Know,” performed by Dinah Shore
“Born to Lose,” performed by Dinah Shore
“Little White Lies,” performed by Dinah Shore

Tony Bennett

After talking with a Broadway veteran about the lack of amplification back in the day, singer Tony Bennett started performing “Fly Me to the Moon” without a microphone in his shows, demonstrating how to “reach the back row.” He did this during his 1994 appearance on MTV’s Unplugged when he went “really unplugged” and performed the song with no microphone.

In 1998, Bennett performed “Slimey to the Moon,” a parody of the song on Sesame Street about the character Slimey and the Worm’s trip to space.

In Pop Culture

The song has been featured in many films and television shows, including RoboCop, Melancholia, Wedding Crashers, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Space Cowboys, Starsky and Hutch, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Wonder Years, Sex and the City, The Simpsons, ER, Mad Men, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Space Force.

Return to Space

The song went all the way to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission and was sung by Diana Krall in 2009 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the landing. “Fly Me to the Moon” was also reprised during mission commander Neil Armstrong’s memorial service in 2012.

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Photo by Daniel Rosenblum/Keystone/Getty Images

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