The American Songbook was embodied by the voice of Tony Bennett, a well-known performer, who has passed away. He was 96.
Tony Bennett dies
Tony Bennett passed away in the early hours of Friday in New York City, according to a spokesperson for the singer. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, yet he still occasionally performed live and put out new music despite his condition. Love For Sale, his subsequent duet album with Lady Gaga, helped him break into the Billboard Top 10 in 2021 at the age of 95. He also honored his retirement that year by giving two moving performances at Radio City Music Hall.
Bennett made his debut as a polished singer in the 1950s and quickly rose to become one of radio’s most popular hit-makers. He was a performer with a cozy nightclub aesthetic. That character followed him around. Like his well-tailored clothing, it was both age-appropriate and always stylish.
At age 20, he recorded his first records with a U.S. Army band in Germany just after World War II. These records included the tune “St. James Infirmary Blues.”
He went by the name Tony Bennett, which Bob Hope gave him. However, he was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in the Queens, New York, district of Astoria. He eventually dropped out of high school and began picking up various jobs to support his family.
In 1998, Bennett told WHYY’s Fresh Air, “In Astoria, Long Island, I became a singing waiter.” It was the one job for which I felt that I could happily work for the rest of my life.
Bennett mentioned in the interview that his father, an opera singer who enchanted his village in Italy, had started the family tradition of singing. According to the performer, he was known for singing on top of mountains in Calabria. They loved him so much, that the entire valley would hear it.
On the G.I. Bill, Bennett himself studied opera, specifically the bel canto singing style. He claims that to find his voice, a tutor advised him to imitate the phrasing of instrumentalists.
Mitch Miller, a producer at Columbia Records, heard Bennett’s “The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” tape, and Bennett was hired there in 1950. He quickly sold millions of records, and a 10-year run of hits came after that.
Bennett gained fame as a crooner, but he also enjoyed jazz.
Bennett’s longtime pianist and arranger Ralph Sharon told NPR in 1998, “He always says, “I’m not a jazz vocalist,” but he has a great feel for a beat.” Sharon said that jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington valued the jazz aesthetic Bennett brought to popular music.
Bennett wanted to sing with them since he enjoyed listening to them. He took advantage of his pop popularity to collaborate with Art Blakey and the Count Basie Orchestra on jazz records.
Sharon claims that regardless of the look Bennett tried, one thing was obvious: “I think it is and was a recognizable sound. You likely always knew who it was.
Afterward, Tony Bennett’s career took off in 1962 after the release of the song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
According to Sharon, Bennett’s signature song was an accident. Along with some clothing, Sharon discovered the sheet music tucked away in a drawer. Before leaving, he put it in his car.
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We arrived at a location named Hot Springs, Arkansas, and I took this out of my luggage, glanced at it, and called Tony. “I always remember,” says Sharon. I informed them that our next stop would be in San Francisco.
Much more than that was involved. Internationally successful, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” earned Bennett two Grammy Awards and remained at the top of the U.S. charts for nearly a year.
Bennett championed social causes, including civil rights, using his fame. Protesters were attacked in 1965 when they attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The event earned the moniker “Bloody Sunday.” Bennett claimed on CNN in 2013 that Harry Belafonte encouraged him to endure the bloodshed in the South and travel with him to Montgomery to play two weeks later.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Bennett admitted to CNN, “but then he told me what happened – how some Blacks were burned. they were doused in gasoline and torched. After hearing that, I immediately responded, “I’ll go with you.”
Bennett was aware of how things were changing, but he wasn’t very eager to adapt his music. Bennett largely objected to singing rock, the newest style. Instead, he adhered to the rules and collaborated with jazz pianist Bill Evans to make two outstanding albums. Bennett appeared on The Muppet Show, David Letterman, The Simpsons, MTV, and smaller venues.
He performed on MTV Unplugged in 1994, and K.D. Lang made a guest appearance. Bennett’s next 20 years were aided by the success of the show and CD, which made his voice heard by a whole new generation. He continued to record duets with a variety of artists, including Lady Gaga, who eventually emerged as his staunchest supporter and a spokesperson for a large number of new admirers.
In 2011, he admitted to NPR that music had been the key to his long existence.
Tony Bennett believed that living meant pursuing his passions, which included singing and painting landscapes and portraits inscribed with his name, “Antonio Benedetto.”