The man Frank Sinatra called “the best singer in the business” has been performing and recording for over 60 years, selling 50 million records worldwide. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Mister Tony Bennett.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto aka Tony Bennett was born in the Queens district of New York City, USA. A multi-Grammy award winner, Bennett’s renditions of compositions from the Great American Songbook have won him generations of fans, but it’s the late Bob Hope who gave him his first break in 1949 – and christened him Tony Bennett, after advising him to dump his original stagename, Joe Bari.
First performing in public at the age of 10, Tony dropped out of college aged 16 and supported himself as a singing waiter before his US Army draft papers appeared in time for him to serve in the final months of the conflict in Europe.
Following the success of his tour with Hope, the rechristened Bennett joined Columbia Records and enjoyed his first chart topper with 1951′s “Because of You”. Further hits in the shape of “Blue Velvet”, “Rags to Riches”, and “Stranger in Paradise” followed and by 1956 Bennett was fronting his own TV show.
Successful collaborations with Count Basie and what proved to be his most enduring song, the double-Grammy award winning “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” saw Bennett maintain his popularity into the following decade, a 1962 concert backed by Ralph Sharon’s Orchestra recorded at Carnegie Hall showcasing a singer at the peak of his powers.
Like many other established performers though, the popular music revolution ushered in by The Beatles and their contemporaries marginalised Bennett from the mainstream and attempts to update his style failed to find favour with the public.
Reliant on a residency in a Las Vegas club for income, Bennett had run-ins with the IRS and endured drug problems in the late 1970s before the following decade saw his classic style regain popularity and the Great American Songbook come back into vogue (with other vocalists such as Rod Stewart also capitalising on this trend).
The 1990s then saw his elder statesman of the music industry tag put him in demand for collaborations with a host of artists, both on stage and in the studio. Film roles also followed and he voiced his own character in an episode of The Simpsons in 1990 (singing “Capital City”).
An album of duets released to mark Bennett’s birthday had the great and the good queuing up to be involved, with Sting, Bono, Elton John and Paul McCartney among those featuring on new versions of a career-spanning retrospective.
Still touring and still living in New York, Tony also remains a passionate painter,with three of his canvases hanging in Smithsonian Institutions (portraying Central Park, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington).
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And here’s some footage of Tony in action: