Sam Franko was an American violinist. He was born in New Orleans on January 20, 1857 to parents of Hungarian extraction. During the Civil War his father, a Confederate soldier, was captured but managed to escape by disguising himself in women's clothing. The family fled to Germany where Sam Franko received his early education. (His father was later pardoned by President Abraham Lincoln.)
In Berlin, Sam Franko studied violin with Joseph Joachim, Heinrich de Ahna, Eduard Rappoldi, Henri Vieuxtempts, and played his first public recital in Breslau at age 7. He made his New York debut at Steinway Hall in 1869. Upon returning to the United States in 1880 he became a member of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, and was its concertmaster from 1884 until 1891 when Thomas left for Chicago. In 1883 Franko toured the United States and Canada as soloist with the Mendelssohn Quintette Club of Boston. At the request of Anton Seidl, he became a member of the New York Philharmonic.
He made his first appearance as conductor in 1891. In an attempt to prove prejudice against American players, he organized the American Symphony Orchestra in 1894, consisting entirely of American-born players. As a result of his activities with the orchestra, he unearthed and arranged a large amount of little known works for orchestra.
In his later years Sam Franko was known as a music teacher. His nephew was Richard Franko Goldman, conductor of the Goldman Band. He died on May 6, 1937 after a fall in the lobby of the Hotel des Artistes in New York City. His memoirs were published posthumously as Chords and discords: memoirs and musings of an American musician (1938).
From the guide to the Sam Franko scores, ca. 1880-ca. 1936, (The New York Public Library. Music Division.)