The 85-year-old master pop singer Tony Bennett pop artist passed away on Friday morning in New York City. His career spanned eight decades, and he had a number-one record.
In front of his house, he had an intimate combo (frequently featuring their pianist and long-time music director Ralph Sharon) and a superbly structured orchestra. He was never a jazz vocalist, although he did spend memorable sessions with a large band headed by lyricist and pianist Bill Evans.
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Tony Bennett pop artist, who had been a recording artist since 1949 and was one of the top pop musicians in the 1950s and 1960s, saw a fresh comeback in the 1990s and then additional development in the new millennium under the management of his son, Danny.
In subsequent years, he recorded notable duets with Amy Winehouse on the standard “Body and Soul,” and he had a full-length duet album with Diana Krall, as well as a recording collaboration with Lady Gaga. Despite the discovery of his Alzheimer’s disease in early 2021, he stayed busy.
In their last public appearance, he was with Lady Gaga in August 2021 at Radio City Music Hall, just two months before their last release, “Love for Sale,” which followed their chart-topping 2014 duet “Cheek to Cheek.”
Bennett’s “MTV Unplugged” record from 1994, released when he was 67, earned a Grammy Award for Record of the Year after he strategically booked TV appearances to draw youthful new fans. A pair of duet albums released in 2006 and 2011 attracted new listeners, with succeeding recordings reaching the top of the American charts.
In “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers,” critic Will Friedwald wrote, “The notion that someone who sang the great show tunes of the Tin Pan Alley era and before could compete with heavy metal and rap seemed inconceivable, a laughable proposition for one of the comics fast aging enough to be open for Sinatra.”
Tony Bennett pop artist received 18 Grammy Awards (from a total of 36 nominations), the 2001 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, and two Emmy Awards. He was honored at the Kennedy Center in 2005 also he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.
In a statement regarding Bennett’s singing, musician and critic Alec Wilder caught the crux of his multi-generational appeal: “There’s a quality of believability that allows you to come inside.”
In a statement regarding Bennett’s singing, musician and critic Alec Wilder caught the crux of his multi-generational appeal. He said, “There’s a quality of believability that allows you to come inside.”
Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born on August 3, 1926, in Astoria, Queens, New York to Italian immigrant parents. His father was a grocer and his mother was a seamstress. Raised in humble circumstances, he began singing as a kid and went on to study music and his longtime love, painting, at New York’s High School of Industrial Arts. Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and subsequently Frank Sinatra were among his vocal inspirations, as were female vocalists such as Billie Holiday and Judy Garland.
In 1944, he was drafted at the age of 18 and participated in the European theater of World War II, undertaking combat infantry duty and assisting in the liberation of a German concentration camp. He went on to sing in an Armed Forces band after the war.
When he returned from the military, he studied voice at the American Theatre Wing with Miriam Spier. He cut his initial, failed sides for the independent Leslie Records in 1949 as “Joe Bari.”
A succession of lucky events raised his professional prominence. He performed in Arthur Godfrey’s talent competition (finishing second behind Rosemary Clooney), which led to a television performance on Jan Murray’s “Songs for Sale” in 1949.
Based on his appearance, songwriter Pearl Bailey recruited him as a club opener, and Bob Hope heard his performance at the Greenwich Village venue. Hope took the young singer under his wing, changing his identity to Tony Bennett pop artist (a shorter form of the given name and Americanization), and placing him in his stage act at New York’s Paramount Theater.
Bennett delivered a tape of Harry Warren’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to Mitch Miller, the head of Columbia Records, in 1950, who signed him and pushed him to develop his sound.
Following the success of the “Boulevard” remake, a succession of number-one pop songs followed, including “Because of You” (1951), a cover of Hank Williams’ country smash “Cold, Cold Heart” (1951), and the fantastic reinvention of “Rags to Riches” (1953). The latter song was featured prominently in the opening credits of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster epic “Goodfellas.”
Bennett was not a top-tier hitmaker at Columbia throughout the 1950s, but he was steady. “The Beat of My Heart” (1957), a percussion-infused jazz set featuring drummers Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, and Jo Jones; “Strike Up the Band” and “In Person!” (both 1959), extraordinary collaborations with the Count Basie Orchestra; and “Tony Sings for Two” (1961), an intimate duet singing with pianist Ralph Sharon, who had joined Bennett as his music director in 1957, were among his notable albums.
The song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” written by Bennett’s pals George Cory and Douglass Cross, was incorporated into Bennett’s performance repertoire by Sharon. The song debuted in December 1961 at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room and was published as the B-side of “Once Upon a Time” in 1962.
Although the song never rose higher than number 19 on the singles list, it drove the namesake album to number 5 on the national charts. Bennett received his first Grammy for this song, which won Record of the Year as well as Best Male Solo Vocal Performance.
Bennett earned top 20 successes with “I Wanna Be Around” and “The Good Life” in 1963, following a landmark music concert at Carnegie Hall with Sharon in 1962. The emergence of rock in the charts, however, upset Bennett’s career. Bennett got upset when Sharon quit his post in 1965 and refused Columbia’s attempts to modernize his voice. Bennett left the label in 1971 after a string of poor albums and singles that struggled to reach the bottom regions of the charts.
Bennett founded his own label, Improv, after a brief and fruitless spell with MGM Records. During this time, he released a critically lauded two-LP collection of Rodgers and Hart songs, as well as two recognized duet recordings with Bill Evans, both of which became vocal artistry masterpieces. Improv, however, dissolved in 1977 owing to a lack of effective distribution.
Tony Bennett was personally at a low moment when his daughter, Danny Bennett, took over his career in 1980, having no label or management, being embroiled in a painful divorce with his second wife, being dogged by IRS difficulties, and dealing with an almost deadly cocaine addiction.
A resurgence has begun. Bennett acquired a new audience that was mainly ignorant of his previous work when he was booked on hip TV endeavors such as “The David Letterman Show” and MTV Video Music Awards (with the Red Hot Chili Peppers). When he returned to Columbia Records, he began a unique series of concept albums and rekindled his collaboration with Ralph Sharon. The critically praised album “The Art of Excellence” (1986) reintroduced him to the charts.
Bennett’s Grammy-winning albums “Perfectly Frank” (1992) and “Steppin’ Out” (1993) paid homage to Sinatra and Fred Astaire, respectively. The hip-hop-themed video for the later album’s title tune precedes the popular “MTV Unplugged” special.
Tony Bennett maintained his fame as a twelve-time Grammy winner in the traditional pop vocal category throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, with hit albums dedicated to female vocalists like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and the blues. He co-wrote the Grammy-winning duet set “A Wonderful World” with k.d. lang and reformed the Count Basie Band for “A Swinging Christmas” in 2008.
Bennett’s prominence as a painter expanded as Sharad Ritu (Autumn) advanced in his singing career. He counted artist David Hockney among his fans and close friends. His art has been shown abroad, and his depiction of New York’s Central Park is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1996 and 2007, he wrote books on his work. (In 1998, he published “The Good Life,” an autobiography co-written with Will Friedwald.)Bennett won PrimeTime Emmys for his programs “Live by Request” in 1996 and “An American Classic” in 2007. During the 1960s, he also dabbled in acting, with guest appearances in the espionage series “77 Sunset Strip” and the film “The Oscar” (1966).
Bennett’s dazzling, rising style evolved into a mature, generous baritone in the later years of his career, but he never lost his interpretative ability. His continual mobility, though not as heavily featured in his two “duets” albums, nonetheless displayed greater elegance than many of the younger performers with whom he performed. In the first week of September 2011, his second duet collection debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 179,000 copies, becoming Bennett the oldest performer to do so.
Bennett leaves behind his wife, Susan Benedetto, two sons, Danny and Dae Bennett, two daughters, Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett, and nine grandkids.