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Jazzy American Songbook Crooner Tony Bennett, 96, Has Died

Tony Bennett, a well-known performer whose voice personified the American Songbook, has passed away. He was 96.

Bennett passed away in the early hours of Friday in New York City, according to a spokesperson for the singer. Despite receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis in 2016, he continued to occasionally give live performances and release new music despite his illness. Thanks to his second duet album with Lady Gaga, Love For Sale, he entered the Billboard Top 10 at the age of 95 in 2021. That same year, he also celebrated his retirement with two emotional performances at Radio City Music Hall.

In the 1950s, Bennett made his debut as a slick singer and rapidly became one of radio’s most well-liked hit-makers. He was a performer with a cosy nightclub aesthetic. That character followed him around. Like his well-tailored clothing, it was both age-appropriate and always stylish.

When he was 20 years old, he recorded his first sides, which included the song “St. James Infirmary Blues,” which was recorded in Germany just following World War II with a U.S. Army band.

He went by the name Tony Bennett, which Bob Hope gave him. However, he was actually born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in the Queens, New York, neighbourhood of Astoria. He was 10 when his father passed away. He eventually dropped out of high school and began picking up various jobs to support his family.

“I became a singing waiter in Astoria, Long Island,” Bennett said to WHYY’s Fresh Air in 1998. “And it was the only job that I said, ‘If I have to do this for the rest of my life, I’d be happy doing that.'”

Bennett mentioned in the interview that his father, an opera singer who enchanted his village in Italy, had started the family tradition of singing. “In Calabria,” the performer said, “he had a reputation for singing on top of the mountain. 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 in order to find his own 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. He wasn’t confident that he could succeed.

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. Sharon said, “I believe that’s why musicians want to play with Tony, and also love to listen to him.

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 clearly is and was a recognisable sound. You likely always knew who it was.

Afterward, Bennett’s career really 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.

Tony Bennett poses while signing an autograph in 1988.

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. And I informed them that our next stop would be San Francisco. And I remarked, “This song right here would be fascinating.

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 as 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 petrol and torched. I immediately said, “I’ll go with you,” upon hearing that.

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, and MTV in addition to smaller venues.

K.D. Lang made a cameo appearance while he performed on MTV Unplugged in 1994.
Bennett’s next 20 years were aided by the popularity of the concert and CD, which brought a whole new generation’s ears to his music. He continued to record duets with a wide range of artists, including Lady Gaga, who went on to support him fiercely and serve as his spokesperson for a large number of new followers.

His life’s work and the reason for his longevity, he told NPR in 2011.

I adore life, he declared. “I wish I could tell the world what a blessing it is to be alive.”

For Tony Bennett, being alive meant pursuing his interests, which included not only singing but also painting landscapes and portraits that were inscribed with his name, “Antonio Benedetto.”


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