Famed American singer Tony Bennett died Friday at the age of 96.
His publicist, Sylvia Weiner, confirmed Bennett's death to The Associated Press,
saying that Bennett passed away in his hometown of New York.
As of now, there has been no specific cause of death announced, although Bennett
was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2016.
A tribute to Bennett was posted on his official Instagram page that read,
"Tony left us today but he was still singing the other day at his piano and his
last song was, ‘Because of You,’ his first #1 hit. Tony, because of you we have
your songs in our heart forever."
A performer for seven decades, Bennett played his last concert in 2021 at Radio City
Music Hall with frequent collaborator and friend Lady Gaga.
The event was titled "One Last Time: An Event with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga"
and aired on Nov. 28 of that year. Fans and critics alike were moved by his performance,
and it was noted that despite battling Alzheimer's for several years at that point,
he was still able to command the stage with "hardly a stumble over a single lyric."
It was a remarkable send-off to a remarkable career that began in the early '50s.
Bennett began singing not long after finishing up his service in the Army during
World War II. He fought in the European theater and wrote in his autobiography,
"The Good Life," that it was a "terrifying, demoralizing experience" and that he
"saw things no human being should ever have to see."
Bennett was signed to Columbia Records in 1950, and after mild success, he got
a number one hit with "Because of You" in 1951.
In the years following his career, he continued to thrive, and in 1962, he released one
of his most popular songs, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
Contemporary Frank Sinatra told Life magazine in 1965, "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."
Soon after, the trend in popular music began to shift. Crooners like Bennett
were no longer on top, and rock ‘n’ roll began to take over the charts.
His career suffered during this transition, especially when his record
label attempted to change his style to more closely match The Beatles,
who had been blowing up in the U.K.
His career floundered for years after this – his record label dropped him in
1971 -- but in 1986 he released an album called "The Art of Excellence," and
while it did not do as well commercially as his earlier works, it did serve to
revitalize his career which would remain steady for the rest of his life.
In the early '90s, his popularity surged again when he was discovered by
a younger audience. He appeared on MTV's popular series "Unplugged" and released
an album from that performance, appeared at the network's award shows, and even
had a music video in rotation on the channel.
Younger people loved Bennett, and he notably did not change his style in the least
to gain that love.
As he told The Associated Press in 2006, "I enjoy entertaining the audience,
making them forget their problems. I think people ... are touched if they hear
something that’s sincere and honest and maybe has a little sense of humor. ...
I just like to make people feel good when I perform."
In 2014, Bennett experienced yet another wave of popularity when he began
collaborating with pop music superstar Lady Gaga. The two released an album
of duets called "Cheek to Cheek," and they toured together throughout that year
and the next. Gaga clearly adored Bennett, and he felt the same. They would
collaborate frequently up until his final concert at Radio City Music Hall.
Throughout his career, he received 20 Grammy Awards and was named a Jazz Master
by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Besides his musical achievements, Bennett’s other accomplishments included
helping to liberate a concentration camp in Germany during his service in
World War II and joining in Dr. Martin Luther King’s historical Selma march
in 1965, when he performed for protestors.
He also excelled in other artistic endeavors, having three paintings in
the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection. As part of his dedication
to the arts, he founded the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts, a public high
school in his hometown in Queens, New York.
Bennett is survived by his wife Susan and four children – sons Danny and Dae with
first wife Patricia Beech, and daughters Joanna and Antonia with second wife Sandra
Grant. He had nine grandchildren.
Other Articles of Interest:
(Note: Some news media sites
require user registration to read articles and/or to send you 'targeted' email