American singer and Actor Tony Bennett (Anthony Benedetto) was born August 3, 1926 in Astoria. Queens, New York. He began singing at an early age and grew up listening to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby as well as jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Venuti. His Uncle Dick was a tap dancer in vaudeville, giving him an early window into show business,and his Uncle Frank was the Queens borough library commissioner. By age 10 he was already singing, and performed at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. Drawing was another early passion of his; he became known as the class caricaturist at P.S. 141 and anticipated a career in commercial art. He began singing for money at age 13, performing as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants around his native Queens. He attended New York’s School of Industrial Art where he studied painting and music. He also worked as a copy boy and runner for the Associated Press in Manhattan. However Bennett began a professional singing career, performing at the Paramus, a New Jersey, nightclub.
He was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944, during the final stages of World War II. He did basic training at Fort Dix and Fort Robinson as part of becoming an infantry rifleman. in January 1945, he was assigned as a replacement infantryman to the 255th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division, a unit filling in for the heavy losses suffered in the Battle of the Bulge which he described as a “front-row seat in hell” and he narrowly escaped death several times.The experience made him a pacifist. He was involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg, where some American prisoners of war from the 63rd Division had also been held.Benedetto stayed in Germany as part of the occupying force, but was assigned to an informal Special Services band unit that would entertain nearby American forces.However he was demoted and reassigned to Graves Registration Service duties. He then sang with the 314th Army Special Services Band under the stage name Joe Baria name he had started using before the war, chosen after the city and province in Italy and as a partial anagram of his family origins in Calabria).He played with many musicians who would have post-war careers.
Upon his discharge from the Army and return to the States in 1946, He studied at the American Theatre Wing on the GI Bill. He was taught the bel canto singing discipline,which would keep his voice in good shape for his entire career. He continued to perform wherever he could, including while waiting tables. In 1949, he was asked to open for Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village. She had invited Bob Hope to the show. Hope decided to take Benedetto on the road with him, and simplified his name to Tony Bennett and In 1950, Bennett cut a demo of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. In 1951 he had his first number-one popular song with “Because of You”. Several top hits such as “Rags to Riches” followed in the early 1950s. He then refined his approach to encompass jazz singing.
Bennett began his career as a crooner of commercial pop tunes. His first big hit was “Because of You”, a ballad produced by Miller with a lush orchestral arrangement from Percy Faith. This was followed by a rendition of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart”. Bennett then recorded “Blue Velvet” then On February 12, 1952, Bennett married Ohio art student and jazz fan Patricia Beech. The couple had two sons, D’Andrea (Danny, born 1954) and Daegal (Dae, born 1955). He had A third number-one in 1953 with “Rags to Riches” and then recorded “Stranger in Paradise” for the Broadway musical Kismet which started Bennett’s career as an international artist. In 1956, Bennett hosted a NBC Saturday night television variety show, The Tony Bennett Show, as a summer replacement for The Perry Como Show. Patti Page and Julius La Rosa had previously hosted the show, and they all shared the same singers, dancers, and orchestra. Then In 1959 Bennett filled in for The Perry Como Show, this time alongside Teresa Brewer and Jaye P. Morgan as co-hosts of the summer-long Perry Presents.
In 1955 Bennett released the album Cloud 7. His next album “The Beat of My Heart” featured well-known jazz musicians such as Herbie Mann and Nat Adderley, with a strong emphasis on percussion from the likes of Art Blakey, Jo Jones, Latin star Candido Camero, and Chico Hamilton. Bennett then worked with the Count Basie Orchestra, becoming the first male pop vocalist to sing with Basie’s band resulting inThe albums Basie Swings, Bennett Sings (1958) and In Person! (1959) which featured the song “Chicago”. Then In June 1962, Bennett staged a highly promoted concert performance at Carnegie Hall, alongside Al Cohn, Kenny Burrell, and Candido, as well as the Ralph Sharon Trio, it featured 44 songs, including “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “The Best Is Yet To Come”. He also sang on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and rereleased “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance. Bennett’s following album, I Wanna Be Around… (1963), featured “I wanna be Around” and “The Good Life”.In 1965 Bennett had minor hits including “If I Ruled the World” from Pickwick. Sadly his popularity declined so he appeared in the 1966 film The Oscar.
Bennett is a firm believer in the American Civil Rights movement, and also participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches and refused to perform in apartheid South Africa. There was also great pressure on Tony Bennett to record “contemporary” rock songs, which Bennett was extremely reluctant to do and his misgivings were proved correct on the album “Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!” Which featured misguided attempts at Beatles and other current songs and a ludicrous psychedelic art cover. In 1972 he relocated to London and hosted a television show from the Talk of the Town nightclub. In 1971, he divorced his wife Patricia and became involved with aspiring actress Sandra Grant while filming The Oscar in 1965; the couple lived together for several years, and quietly married in New York in 1971 They had two daughters, Joanna (born 1970) and Antonia (born 1974), and moved to Los Angeles. Then Bennett started his own record company, Improv and released songs such as “What is This Thing Called Love?”, and made two well-regarded albums with jazz pianist Bill Evans, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975) and Together Again. Sadly Bennett and his wife separated in 1979, and divorced in 2007 and he developed a drug addiction, he was also living beyond his means, and had the Internal Revenue Service trying to seize his Los Angeles home..
————— PART TWO – RESURGANCE IN POPULARITY ————-
Things came to a head in 1979 when After a near-fatal cocaine overdose Bennett called his sons Danny and Dae for help. Danny Bennett, an aspiring musician himself, realised his musical abilities were limited but he did have a head for business. His father, on the other hand, had tremendous musical talent but not much business sense, so Danny signed on as his father’s manager. Danny got his father’s expenses under control, moved him back to New York, and booked him in colleges and small theaters to get him away from a “Vegas” image and kindle a new fan-base. Bennett also repaid the IRS reunited with Pianist and Musical Director Ralph Sharon until finally In 1986 Bennett released the album The Art of Excellence. Danny Bennett felt that younger audiences who were unfamiliar with Tony Bennett would respond to his music if given a chance. No changes to Tony’s formal appearance, singing style, musical accompaniment (The Ralph Sharon Trio or an orchestra), or song choice (generally the Great American Songbook) were necessary or desirable. Bennett subsequently appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Simpsons, Muppets Tonight, and various MTV programs. Then In 1993, Bennett played a series of benefit concerts organized by alternative rock radio stations around the country.
Bennett released the album “look-back Astoria: Portrait of the Artist” plus the Sinatra homage “Perfectly Frank” (1992) and the Fred Astaire tribute “Steppin’ Out” (1993) Both winning Grammys for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance (Bennett’s first Grammys since 1962). Bennett was seen at MTV Video Music Awards shows side-by-side with the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Flavor Flav, and as his “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” video received MTV airplay. Then in 1994 Bennett appeared on MTV Unplugged alongside rock and country stars Elvis Costello and k.d. Lang. The resulting MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett album went platinum and, took the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance Grammy award for the third straight year, and the top Grammy prize of Album of the Year and Since his comeback, Bennett has prospered and had no intention of retiring. Bennett continued to record and tour steadily, doing a hundred shows a year by the end of the 1990s.In concert Bennett often makes a point of singing one song (usually “Fly Me to the Moon”) without any microphone or amplification, demonstrating his skills at vocal projection. One show, Tony Bennett’s Wonderful World: Live From San Francisco, was made into a PBS special. Bennett also created the idea behind, and starred in the first episode of, the A&E Network’s popular Live by Request series, for which he won an Emmy Award. Bennett has had cameo appearances as himself in films such as The Scout, Analyze This, and Bruce Almighty.
In 1998 Bennett appeared at the Glastonbury Music Festival and also published The Good Life: The Autobiography of Tony Bennett in 1998. He released a series of albums, based on themes (such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, blues, or duets). Bennett also won eight more Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance or Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album Grammys in the subsequent years, most recently for the year 2011. In 2005 Bennett was honoured by President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush alongside actress Julie Harris, actor Robert Redford, singer Tina Turner, ballet dancer Suzanne Farrell. Tony Bennett was also given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street and inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997. Bennett was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, and received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 2002. He was also in Q Magazine’s list of the “50 Bands To See Before You Die”and also received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2005.A theatrical musical revue of his songs, called I Left My Heart: A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett featured songs like I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, “Because of You”, and “Wonderful” and he was also inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. Bennett frequently donates his time to charitable causes, to the extent that he is sometimes nicknamed “Tony Benefit”. In 2002 he joined Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker and former President Bill Clinton in a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at New York’s Apollo Theater.
Bennett met Susan Crow, a former New York City schoolteacher, 33 years his junior. They founded Exploring the Arts, a charitable organization dedicated to creating, promoting, and supporting arts education. They also founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, a public high school dedicated to teaching the performing arts. Bennett married Crow in 2007 in a private civil ceremony in New York that was witnessed by former Governor Mario Cuomo. Danny Bennett continues to be Tony’s manager while Dae Bennett is a recording engineer who has worked on a number of Tony’s projects and opened Bennett Studios in Englewood, New Jersey. Tony’s younger daughter Antonia is an aspiring jazz singer. In 2007 Bennett released the album. Duets: An American Classic, Winning two Grammy Awards. He also performed for New York radio station WLTW-FM with Christina Aguilera. Alec Baldwin also impersonated Bennett on Saturday Night Live. A television special Tony Bennett: An American Classic on NBC, also won multiple Emmy Awards and the Billboard Century Award. Bennett also guest-mentored on American Idol season 6 and performed during the finale. He received the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Humanitarian Award and was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2006.
In 2008 Bennett appeared on “New York State of Mind” with Billy Joel at the final concerts given at Shea Stadium. He also released the album A Swingin’ Christmas with The Count Basie Big Band. In 2009, Bennett performed at the Macworld Conference & Expo for Apple Inc., singing the “The Best Is Yet to Come” and “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” and appeared at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. In February 2010, Bennett sang on “We Are the World 25 for Haiti”, a charity single in aid of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He also performed “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “God Bless America” at AT&T Park during the 2010 World Series and sang “America the Beautiful” at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. In 2011, Bennett caused controversy on The Howard Stern Show by naming American military actions in the Middle East as the root cause of the September 11 attacks. Bennett also claimed that former President George W. Bush told him that he felt he had made a mistake invading Iraq. Bennett later clarified his position, writing: “There is simply no excuse for terrorism and the murder of the nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks on our country. My life experiences, ranging from the Battle of the Bulge to marching with Martin Luther King, made me a life-long humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and that war is the lowest form of human behavior.”
Bennett also released Duets II, to celebrate his 85th birthday. He sings duets with seventeen prominent singers of varying techniques, including Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson and Queen Latifah. Bennett appears on the season 2 premiere of Blue Bloods performing “It Had To Be You” with Carrie Underwood and duetted with Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul” which reached number One making Bennett the oldest living artist to have a Number One Song as well as the artist with the greatest span of appearances. In 2011, Tony Bennett – The Complete Collection, a 73-CD plus 3-DVD set, was released and Bennett also appeared at the Royal Variety Performance in Salford in the presence of HRH Princess Anne. Following the premature deaths of Winehouse and Whitney Houston, Bennett caused controversy by calling for the legalization of drugs in 2012 and also released Viva Duets, an album of Latin American music duets, featuring Vicente Fernández, Juan Luis Guerra, and Vicentico among others, he also performed “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in front of more than 100,000 fans at a City Hall ceremony commemorating the 2012 World Series victory by the San Francisco Giants and published another memoir, Life is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett, and a documentary film produced by his son Danny titled The Zen of Bennett. Bennett also performed for the first time in Israel, with his jazz quartet at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, and made a surprise cameo appearance on stage with Lady Gaga at Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv, he also released the Grammy-winning album, Cheek to Cheek, at the age of 88 and went on tour with Lady Gaga.