Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Here's to Tony Bennett on his 90th birthday!

I'm not staying contemporary for the big record companies, I don't follow the latest fashions. I never sing a song that's badly written. In the 1920s and '30s, there was a renaissance in music that was the equivalent of the artistic Renaissance. Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and others just created the best songs that had ever been written. 

- Tony Bennett
Winston-Salem Journal, September 5, 2010, "Tony Bennett says a key to his continued success is being true to the audience", by Tim Clodfelteer

…his voice is still a technical marvel, and no one else on Earth can make a lyric written eight decades ago sound as natural as a conversation at a coffee shop.

- New York Magazine

Happy Birthday to Tony Bennett, the ageless crooner, who turns 90 years young today.  Tony was born Anthony (Antonio) Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens. New York on August 3, 1926.  His parents, John Benedetto, a grocer, and Anna, a seamstress, were Italian-Americans.  John was an immigrant from southern Italy, while Anna was born in the United States to parents who had just immigrated from Calabria.

The Benedetto family, including Tony's older brother John Jr. and his older sister  Mary, struggled through The Great Depression.  John Sr. became too ill to work and he died when Tony was just ten years old.  Despite the hardships, young Tony found joy in music.  Growing up, he listened to artists such as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Al Jolson and such jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong.

Tony attended the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan where he honed his musical and painting skills.  However, he dropped out to help support his family by taking various menial, low-paying jobs.  His goal, however, was to launch a singing career.  To that end, he competed in New York City amateur night contests and performed at a nightclub in New Jersey.

In 1944, Tony Benedetto was drafted into the United States Army.  He served overseas in World War II and remained in Germany as part of the occupying force.  Upon returning to America in 1946, he studied at the American Theatre Wing, a New York-based organization devoted to excellence and education in the theatrical arts.  In 1949, the great Pearl Bailey invited the young singer to open for her in Greenwich Village.  After seeing the show, Bob Hope asked Benedetto to tour with him.

In 1950, Tony recorded a demo of a song called "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and producer Mitch Miller signed him him to the Columbia Records label.  Tony's first big hit was "Because of You," produced by Miller with an orchestral arrangement from Percy Faith.  He followed the success of "Because of You" with a pop version of country singer Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart."  In 1953, Tony had another big hit with "Rags to Riches."  As he reaches his 90th birthday, this remarkable music legend is still going strong.

What I admire about Tony Bennett is that he has managed to stay true to his music and to his audience.  He is a man who was born in the "Jazz Age" of F. Scott Fitzgerald.(Young people were dancing the Charleston when Tony was born).  Yet he still remains relevant in the 21st century and the "Digital Age.".  He performs duets with Lady Gaga, a woman 60 years younger than he, but continues to sing songs that are suited to his style.  He doesn't try to dress ridiculously young or to cultivate a cooler image. Tony's not phony.  He seems comfortable in his own skin.  He hasn't dyed his hair platinum blond or tattooed his arms just to appeal to a younger demographic.  Not only that, but Tony has a good sense of humour too.  He once stated: “I think one of the reasons I'm popular again is because I'm wearing a tie. You have to be different.”

Tony Bennett is all about his music and mainly his music.  That's why he's received 19 Grammy Awards (including a 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award).  That's why he'll continue to sing his signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," at the age of 90 and beyond.  By the way, Tony released "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." as a single in 1962.  He first sang the song in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

It appears that Tony Bennett has discovered the fountain of youth.  The man simply refuses to slow down.  He has a full fall tour schedule and he will be performing in Detroit next week.  Oh yes, according to an AFP story, he has declared himself in good health and "ready for a new collaboration - with Beyonce if she's interested."  He told NBC's Today show that his doctors "keep telling me, "There's not a thing wrong with you. Just keep going at it.'" Not bad for a nonagenarian, eh?


* Tony Bennett's 2007 autobiography is entitled The Good Life.

* Tony is an accomplished artist and signs his paintings with his real name, Anthony Benedetto.

* It was Bob Hope who suggested that Tony change his name from "Benedetto" to "Bennett."

* Tony Bennett  has been married three times and divorced twice.  On February 12, 1952, he wed Ohio art student Patricia Beech in a ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.  The marriage produced two sons, D'Andrea (Danny, born 1954) and Daegal (Dae, born 1955).  In 1971, he married American actress Sandra Grant.  The couple had two daughters, Joanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett (born April 7, 1974).  Antonia, now 42, is a singer.  On June 21, 2007, Tony married Susan Crow, a much younger former school teacher, in a private civil ceremony in New York City.

Tony and Susan Crow in 2008 
                                                                        Photo Attribution:
  originally posted to Flickr as Tony Bennett and wife, Susan Crow

* With Cheek to Cheek, his 2014 collaboration with Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett became the oldest artist to have a Number One album on the U.S. sales chart.  He was then 88.

* Fellow Italian-American singer, Frank Sinatra, was a great admirer of Tony Bennett.  In a 1965 Life magazine interview, Sinatra said the following: "For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business.  He excites me when I watch him.  He moves me.  He's the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more."

* NBC will broadcast a special tribute to Tony Bennett. The two-hour program, entitled Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet to Come, will air on December 20, 2016, just in time for the holiday season.  Guests will include Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Elton John, Aretha Franklin and Lady Gaga. Tony, of course, will perform some of his hit songs.

- Joanne

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