Tony Bennett, a seven-decade US singer, died at the age of 96.
Tony Bennett, the American pop and jazz singer who became known as the torchbearer for the Great American Songbook throughout a seven-decade career, died on Friday at the age of 96, according to his publicist.
Tony Bennett was arguably best remembered for his 1962 trademark song I Left My Heart in San Francisco, as well as for staging an incredible career resurrection in the 1980s and 1990s that brought him continued fame into old age. He has received 19 Grammy nominations, including a lifetime achievement award in 2001, and has sold over 50 million songs worldwide.
It was revealed in 2020 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. On Twitter, he commented, “Life is a gift – even with Alzheimer’s.” While his cognitive ability was diminished, he was still able to sing a large portion of his repertoire.
Tony Bennett’s ability to perform in pop, big band, and jazz genres earned him accolades and a slew of eager colleagues. He proved his relevance in 2014 by collaborating with Lady Gaga on the album Cheek to Cheek, on which the pair handled a variety of jazz standards. It went to No. 1 in the United States, becoming Bennett the oldest living singer to do so, a title he previously held thanks to his 2011 album Duets II.
Bennett, who was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in 1926 to Italian immigrants, grew up in Queens, New York. His father died when he was ten years old, despite the fact that he was already singing professionally at the time. As a youngster, he worked as a singing waiter to help support his family before enrolling in New York’s School of Industrial Art to study music and painting.
But he continued to sing while serving in an occupying army in Germany, and after returning home in 1949, his singing career could begin fully, first as Joe Bari and subsequently as Tony Bennett.
Because of You was his first No. 1 hit in 1951. Blue Velvet, Rags to Riches, and work influenced by his childhood hero Frank Sinatra’s swinging style continued to hit throughout the decade. Bennett rose to fame as a teen idol, and when he married his first wife, Patricia Beech, in 1952, 2,000 female fans dressed in black outside the ceremony in New York to “mourn” the event.
His rendition of the 1953 ballad I Left My Heart in San Francisco catapulted him to superstardom in 1962. Bennett won two Grammys for the song, which became a 20th-century pop staple.
Tony Bennett’s life was turned upside down when he recruited his son Danny as his manager. Leaving the Las Vegas circuit for New York and rejoining with pianist and musical director Ralph Sharon in his early 60s proved to be masterstrokes. The Art of Excellence, his 1986 comeback album, was a smash hit, and he never looked back. Perfectly Frank (1992), an homage to his idol Frank Sinatra, topped the US Billboard jazz charts, while MTV Unplugged (1994) earned Bennett a Grammy for album of the year. Bennett became a late-night TV staple and collaborated with a slew of singers, including kd lang, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, and Diana Krall, which helped him stay relevant with younger artists.
Tony Bennett’s artistic interests extended beyond singing. His works are on display at the Smithsonian Institution and the Butler Institute of American Art under his birth name. He established the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York, in 2001, which provides degrees in visual art, dance, vocal and instrumental music, theatre, and cinema.
Tony Bennett stayed committed to performing till the end of his life. He told the New York Times shortly after his 90th birthday, “I could have retired 16 years ago, but I just love what I’m doing.” In August 2021, he played at New York’s Radio City Music Hall alongside Lady Gaga.
He leaves behind four children: Danny and Dae from his first marriage to Beech, and Joanna and Antonia from his second marriage to Sandra Grant Bennett, from whom he divorced in 1979. Since 2007, he has been married to Susan Crow, who is 40 years his junior.
Musicians paid tribute, including Nile Rodgers, who extended “heartfelt condolences” to Bennett’s family, and Joe Bonamassa, who named Bennett “one of the best to ever grace the stage… the last of the greatest generation of singers and musicians.”