Photo by Dino Perrucci
Tony Bennett, the masterful pop vocalist whose illustrious career spanned an impressive eight decades and left an indelible mark on the world of music, passed away on Friday morning in New York City at the age of 96. Despite being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, Bennett continued to perform and record until 2021, enchanting audiences with his timeless voice and charm.
Often lauded as the greatest popular singer in the world, Bennett’s recordings, mostly made for Columbia Records, exuded ebullience, warmth, vocal clarity and emotional openness. Renowned for his exceptional interpretation of the Great American Songbook, he will forever be remembered for his signature hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” released in 1962.
A versatile artist, Bennett thrived in both intimate settings, often accompanied by his longtime musical director and pianist, Ralph Sharon, and grand orchestral arrangements. Though not exclusively a jazz singer, he thrived in jazz settings and delivered remarkable sessions with Count Basie’s big band and the timeless pianist Bill Evans.
Bennett’s career experienced several resurgences. He dominated the pop charts in the 1950s and early ’60s, enjoyed renewed success in the 1990s, and once again in the new millennium under the management of his son, Danny. Throughout his later years, he collaborated with contemporary artists such as Amy Winehouse, Diana Krall, and Lady Gaga, showcasing his unwavering passion for music and his ability to captivate audiences across generations.
As a recipient of 18 Grammy Awards and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, Bennett’s talent and contributions were universally recognized. Additionally, he earned two Emmy Awards, a Kennedy Center Honoree title in 2005, and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Queens, New York, on Aug. 3, 1926, to Italian immigrant parents, Bennett’s journey to stardom began as a child when he discovered his love for singing. He studied music and painting at New York’s High School of Industrial Art and drew inspiration from iconic artists such as Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Judy Garland.
After serving in World War II and performing as a member of an Armed Forces band, Bennett’s career took off with an appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s talent show, which eventually led to a contract with Columbia Records and the development of his unique singing style.
Despite facing challenges, including personal struggles and shifts in the music industry, Bennett’s career saw a remarkable resurgence thanks to the dedication and support of his son, Danny, who managed his father’s career from 1980 onwards. With renewed popularity and fresh audiences, Bennett’s talent shone brighter than ever, earning him accolades and Grammy Awards in the traditional pop vocal category. As late as April 2022, he won a Grammy, his 19th, alongside Lady Gaga, for “Love for Sale.”
Apart from his musical accomplishments, Bennett also excelled as a painter, with his works showcased in galleries worldwide. His painting of New York’s Central Park hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
Tony Bennett is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto; his sons, Danny and Dae Bennett; his daughters, Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett; and nine grandchildren.