Tony Bennett, the last of a generation of classic American singers whose relentlessly buoyant spirit helped make generations of hitmakers for seven decades, died Friday in New York. He was 96 years old.
Growing up in an era when big bands defined American pop music, Bennett achieved an incredible second act by beginning to win over younger audiences in the 1990s – not by reinventing himself but by setting the standard By showing your happiness.
And then at age 88, in 2014 Bennett became the oldest person to reach number one on the US album sales chart through a collection of duets with Lady Gaga – who became his friend and touring partner, but was only one of a long list of youngsters. Stars who rushed to work with great singing.
Bennett’s publicist, Sylvia Weiner, announced his death.
Compared to Frank Sinatra early in his career, Bennett at first tried to distance himself, but eventually followed the same path as other old-fashioned singers – singing in nightclubs, on television, and in films, although his attempts to act quickly fizzled out.
His gift proved to be his stage presence.
With a welcoming smile and attractive suit, he sang with enthusiasm and an innate vibrato in a strong, clearly articulated voice that he kept in shape through training from the operatic bel canto tradition.
Beginning with the recording of the film song “Because of You” in 1951, Bennett scored dozens of hits, including “Rags to Riches,” “Stranger in Paradise” and, which became his signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San”. Sing it. Francisco,” which won him two of his 19 career Grammy Awards.
But the British Invasion, led by The Beatles, initially took a heavy toll on the singer, whose music suddenly began to sound quaint and antiquated. He nearly died of a cocaine overdose in 1979, only to get sober and eventually revive his career.
Bennett told British culture magazine Clash, “When rap came in, or disco, whatever was the new fashion at the time, I didn’t try to find something that fit into any one genre of the whole music landscape.”
“I just stayed in myself and sang honestly and tried to be true to myself – never compromised, just sang the best songs I could think of for the public.
“And luckily it paid off.”
– Singing as stern youth –
Tony Bennett – his stage name came about after advice from showbiz A-lister Bob Hope – was born Anthony Dominic Benedetto in the Astoria neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York.
His father was a struggling grocer who had immigrated from the Calabria region of southern Italy, to which his mother was also descended.
She showed early potential as an entertainer at the age of nine when she sang beside the legendary Mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia, as he formally inaugurated the city’s Triboro Bridge, now known as the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.
But his father died when he was 10, at a time when the United States was still struggling to recover from the Great Depression, leading him to drop out of school and earn money through jobs including singing in Italian restaurants and painting caricatures, which remained a lifelong additional career.
During World War II, Bennett enlisted in the 63rd Infantry Division and was sent to France and Germany. But he was demoted after cursing at a Southern officer who objected to Bennett dining with an African American friend in the then racially segregated army.
As punishment, Bennett spends his duty hours digging up bodies and shipping them. But after the Allied victory, Bennett got an unexpected break in music while he was waiting with fellow soldiers in Wiesbaden, Germany, to return home.
The town’s opera house is still intact, with a US Army band performing a weekly show broadcast over military radio across Germany. Assigned as the band’s librarian, Bennett was immediately impressed by her voice and was made one of the four vocalists.
Bennett later wrote in his autobiography, “The Good Life”, “During this period in the army, I enjoyed the most musical freedom I had ever had in my life.”
He wrote, “I could sing whatever I wanted and there was nobody around to tell me different.”
– Outspoken against racism and war –
When he returned to the United States, he took formal singing lessons through the GI Bill, which covered educational expenses for returning servicemen.
His experiences made Bennett a lifelong liberal. He became particularly infuriated in the 1950s when he played in Miami with jazz pioneer Duke Ellington, who was not allowed to attend a press party because of hotel segregation.
In a then-risky move as a popular entertainer, he accepted singer Harry Belafonte’s invitation to join civil rights icon Martin Luther King in a 1965 march through Selma, Alabama, in support of equal voting rights for African Americans. took.
He later wrote in his memoirs that the hostility of the white state troops reminded him of Nazi Germany.
He was also an outspoken opponent of the war, often raising controversies.
A few days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he told popular radio host Howard Stern, “I became a pacifist the first time I saw a dead German.”
– Late in life, but still good –
Bennett was married three times and had four children, including Antonia Bennett, who has followed his path as a singer of pop and jazz standards.
But his son Danny Bennett played the most important role in his father’s career, aggressively courting MTV and other players in the pop world as his father’s manager.
By the early 1990s, Bennett – his style and look had changed little from the 1960s, except for more white hair – was appearing in music videos on MTV and concerts by alternative rock giants such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Porno for Pyros. Were singing warm-ups at concerts.
Bennett’s comeback was evidenced in 1993 when he presented an award at the MTV Video Music Awards with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who applauded his cool factor and sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”.
Their career continued to grow, and a decade later, they had released three successful albums of duets. On one of them, “Body and Soul”, he sang with Amy Winehouse, her last recording before she died in 2011 at the age of 27.
He celebrated his 90th birthday with a star-studded concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, which was turned into a television special and album.
The title was taken from a song popularized by Bennett: “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
Bennett toured the United States and Europe in her final decade, making her last public performance before the tour was halted by the coronavirus pandemic on March 11, 2020, in New Jersey.
Soon after, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. He had kept his condition quiet for years.
At 95, Bennett reunited with Lady Gaga for two more birthday concerts at Radio City Music Hall – the shows served as her farewell to New York.
He then canceled the remaining dates of his 2021 tour on “doctors’ orders”.
“And let the music go on as long as there’s song to sing / And I’ll be younger than spring,” he sang during his performance of “This Is All I Ask”, the first song of his farewell show.
“You’ve been a good audience,” Bennett said before his repetition. “I like this audience.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV Staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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