Tony Bennett

  • Crooner born Anthony Benedetto in Queens New York in 1926.
  • Bennett was singing by ten years old, performing at the opening of the Triborough Bridge, and at 13 he was a singing waiter at neighborhood Italian restaurants. He aspired to art, studying painting in high school, but at 16 he dropped out to help support the family. While working in low paying odd jobs, he continued to sing, winning amateur night competitions all around New York City.
  • After serving in the Army in World War II, he returned to America in 1946 and studied music at the American Theater Wing in New York on the GI Bill, learning the bel canto singing style. In 1949, he made several recordings for a small recording label, using the name Joe Bari, but they did not sell. Later that year, entertainer Pearl Bailey heard him sing and she asked him to open for her at a show in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope attended the show and liked his singing. Hope hired Benedetto to tour with him, shortening his name to Tony Bennett. After making a demo of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, he was signed to a recording contract in 1950.
  • Early in his career, he worked with Mitch Miller and the Percy Faith Orchestra. His first single was Because of You, which reached #1 in 1951. Later that year, he released a pop version of Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart – Bennett’s version went to #1. Both songs were included on Bennett’s debut album, Because of You, released in 1952. It was the first of nine albums released during the 50s. During the decade, 33 singles charted, with Rags to Riches (his first hit with a big band sound) topping the chart, and Stranger in Paradise (his first of many show tune hits) peaking at #2.
  • Despite the emergence of rock and roll in the mid-50s, Bennett continued to be successful into the 60s, though it was increasingly difficult to compete with rock music on the charts. He had 18 singles reach the Hot 100 chart during the 60s, including his signature song I Left My Heart In San Francisco, which peaked at #19. The song won two Grammy awards, including Record of the Year, and in 2018 it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.
  • By 1965, Bennett was losing popularity. His record label pressured him to record rock music, which he despised. He left his label and started his own record label, releasing four albums from 1975 to 1977, but with no distribution deals, the company folded. By the end of the 70s, he was without a manager or recording contract, he was in serious debt and he was hooked on cocaine.
  • As the 80s began, his son Danny intervened and he got his father’s life back on track. Tony began to perform again at small venues, and in 1986 he was re-signed to his old recording label, this time with creative control. His album The Art of Excellence was released, his first album in ten years. To increase his exposure to younger audiences, he regularly appeared on late night television like Late Night with David Letterman, and he appeared on television shows from The Simpsons to MTV Unplugged. 
  • The exposure worked – he was embraced by the public. His 1992 album Perfectly Frank (an homage to Frank Sinatra) and 1993 album Steppin’ Out both won Grammy awards, and both were certified gold, reaching #1 and #2 respectively on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. Three more albums during the 90s topped the jazz album chart – Here’s to the Ladies, Tony Bennett on Holiday and Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cold. All three won Grammy awards for Best Traditional Pop Performance. In 1994, his MTV appearance led to a live album titled MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett. It was his first album to be certified platinum, and it won two Grammy awards, including Album of the Year.
  • Bennett continued to record into the new millenium, releasing twelve albums between 2001 and 2021, including collaborations with k.d. lang, Diana Krall and Lady Gaga. His 2014 album with Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek, reached #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart – at 88 years old, Bennett became the oldest person ever to have a #1 album. He won nine more Grammy awards for albums released after 2000, and in 2001 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award. His best selling album was released in 2011 – Duets II featured Bennett singing duets with 17 other artists, including Lady Gaga, Aretha Franklin, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson and Andrea Bocelli. It was certified 2x platinum. His duet with Amy Winehouse, Body and Soul, won the Grammy award for Best Pop Duo or Group Performance.
  • He disclosed that he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, and by 2021 he was too frail to continue to perform. His last performance was in August 2021 at Radio City Music Hall with Lady Gaga, and his final album with Lady Gaga, Love For Sale, was released the following month. It is highly likely that the album will win Grammy awards – it is nominated for five. He became the oldest person to release an album of new material, at the age of 95. Singing was his best way of dealing with Alzheimer’s – he was on top of his game for his final performance, though the following day he had no recollection of the show.
  • Bennett is an accomplished painter, signing his works using his real name. He sketched nearly every day, and his work was exhibited in galleries throughout the world, with pieces selling for up to $80,000.
  • In addition to his 19 Grammy awards, Bennett was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2005. His career is truly amazing – particularly his success at well past 80 years old. Watch Bennett perform his signature song, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.

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