‘Karaoke Frank’ is a downtown Fargo fixture who helps people sing their hearts out
Frank Collins draws a crowd with his opera-trained voice, but people say it’s how he helps singers that makes him popular.
FARGO — Frank Collins isn’t one to toot his own horn, but when it comes to karaoke, everybody seems to know his name.
Or rather, they know him by "Karaoke Frank." The opera-trained 68-year-old who has taken requests for others to sing for nearly 20 years in downtown Fargo is a legend in the minds of music lovers. And it’s not just because he can spin a track.
“Frank is a personable guy who cares about the people who come in and keep coming in,” said Shannon O’Neill, a manager at Rooters Bar who has worked karaoke nights there for 11 years. “He likes to encourage people to sing. It doesn’t matter what kind of voice you have.”
Collins runs karaoke at Rooters on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Dempsey’s Public House has him on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Oftentimes, he is putting together lists on the spot before a packed bar, going nonstop till closing time.
On a couple of occasions in a night, patrons catch a performance from Collins himself. The downtown Fargo fixture who has pipes of his own will belt out some of his favorites, like Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” or “New York, New York.”
His passion is helping people sing and have fun, he said. It doesn’t matter if they are good at singing, he added.
“People come and do karaoke for fun, and everybody else has fun with it,” Collins said.
Experienced, smooth and kind
Initially from Ghent, Belgium, Collins previously worked as a pharmaceutical representative. He also trained to be an opera singer.
He got into opera after being in a band, he said. A woman who watched his group perform one night came up to him toward the end of his performance.
She said she was a voice coach and asked if he was interested in free lessons, he said.
Collins then attended a music academy. He said he was too nervous to make a career out of opera singing, but he performed as an amateur in Belgium, as well as for the Utah Opera Co. and the Fargo-Moorhead Opera Co.
He met a woman from Grand Forks while living in Belgium, which is how he ended up moving to North Dakota. Karaoke came later.
“I wanted to start doing something with music again,” Collins said. “A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t we do karaoke?’”
The two went to Minneapolis, bought equipment and music, and started running karaoke at local bars. February will mark 19 years of the venture.
Collins does everything he can to make a singer sound good, Dempsey’s karaoke regular Gabe Joachim said. He’ll mix the music to match the volume of voices to the melody, and sometimes he will adjust the key to match a singer’s range, Joachim added.
“He’s so experienced and smooth about it,” Joachim said. “He’s so meticulous about taking your requests and really trying to get it in.”
Joachim also said he likes that Collins doesn’t sing too much himself or play too many songs or videos in between singers. Collins will help the karaoke lovers and even sings with them, Joachim said.
“He is professional and genuinely kind,” he said.
Helping others express themselves through music
When Collins sings, customers stop and listen, O’Neill said. Those who haven’t been to Rooters for karaoke come in and sit in the area where they can’t see Collins’ setup, not realizing his voice is live, O’Neill said.
“They’ll say, ‘Oh, I thought it was karaoke night tonight,’ and I‘ll say, ‘Yeah, it is,’” she said, noting the customers will get up to go watch Collins sing. “His voice alone will draw somebody over here.”
Music tends to bring everyone together despite people’s differences, O’Neill said. Collins in particular has a way of getting people to the microphone, she said.
When Collins has to take time off, people notice, she said. They ask where he is, whether he is OK, when he is coming back and if there is anything they can do for him.
O’Neill said she and Collins have become close friends over the years. She recalled him singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel before her mother died five years ago.
“I goosebumped, and I started bawling,” she said. “He asked, ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, ‘Thank you. … That song, don’t ever stop singing it, and if it ever looks like I’m a crabby person, sing that song, and it will get me back in my place.’
“To this day, he still sings it,” she added.
O’Neill said her mother loved karaoke. Her mother and Collins never met, but he ran karaoke at her celebration of life, O’Neill noted.
“He took time out of his day. It was a weekend. It wasn’t something that he had to do,” she said. “Just having him there meant a lot to me.”
Collins never thought he would enjoy running karaoke, but he said he will probably do it as long as he can move.
“I just like to have fun with people,” he said. “If I can help somebody express themselves through song, I think that’s wonderful.”