Tony Bennett is one of the most iconic performers of all time. The jazz vocalist has been active in the entertainment industry for almost 70 years, during which time she has shared the stage with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
The effects of old age, however, are becoming more obvious. Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2021, and he is currently receiving state-of-the-art care for his condition.
Tony’s appreciation for music, though, continues unabated. The rumor of “two final performances” with Lady Gaga has now been proven. Our only regret is that we won’t get to watch him perform one last time.
The 96-year-old Tony Bennett is not a natural-born celebrity. In fact, he had a difficult childhood and early adolescence.
Tony Bennett – early life
Bennett was born to parents who had recently emerged from the Great Depression on August 3, 1926, in Queens, New York. Tony’s father passed suddenly when he was just 10 years old, leaving his mother to raise three kids on her own.
“She worked so hard, she made dresses and she taught me the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned,” Bennett told Nobhill Gazette.
“She said, ‘Don’t ever have me work on a bad dress. If it’s a good dress, I’ll work on it and make sure it comes out right.’ So, I applied that theory to music and never made a bad song. Every song is a worthwhile song to sing.”
Bennett called Louis Armstrong “the King” when he was a boy and his admiration for him endured throughout his life. He enrolled at New York City’s High School of Industrial Arts but never finished there. Bennett, in order to help support his family, took a job as a waiter. That turned out to be the luckiest break he could have asked for.
While serving customers at an Italian restaurant in his hometown of Astoria, New York, Tony began to break out into song. It’s an unusual route to fame for someone who is now considered one of the greatest singers of all time. But, Tony found it to be just right.
“I loved that time of my life, and I honestly feel that, if I hadn’t made it professionally, I would be perfectly happy going back to being a singing waiter,” Bennett recalled.
“It was a great training ground, as I learned so many songs from the cooks in the kitchen when we would get requests where we didn’t know the song or all the lyrics. And it also strengthened the love that I have performing for the public, which was first inspired by my Italian-American family.
“We would gather at our house every Sunday, have a big meal and then, afterwards, the family would sit in a circle and my brother, sister and I would entertain them,” he added.
“It was during that time that I realized that I loved performing and making people happy. So, whether it’s in a restaurant or a concert stage, it makes no difference — I just like to entertain people.”
During WWII, Tony Bennett was an infantryman with the United States Army. After returning to the United States, he began focusing on his true calling: music.
Afterward, he enrolled in the American Theatre Wing’s vocal program. There, Bennett worked with Mimi Spear, who became a pivotal figure in his rise to prominence as a coach.
She told me: ‘Don’t imitate other singers; imitate musicians’,” Bennett recalled.
“That’s the same thing that Billie Holiday said in her book, that she imitated Louis Armstrong. I imitated (jazz pianist) Art Tatum. He held on to the basic melody like a rock, but his chords and sense of accompaniment were astounding.”
Tony, now going by the stage name Joe Bari, had begun performing regularly by this time. Bob Hope, a famous singer, comedian, and performer, found him in 1949 and signed him.
Tony Bennett – ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’
He came to the conclusion that “Joe Bari” wasn’t a very good name. Hope then offered up “Tony Bennett” as an alternative. Since then, he has been known by that moniker.
Bob Hope was so impressed with Tony that he gave him his own touring show. “I’ve been on the road ever since,” Bennett told Billboard in 1997.
Bennett began his recording career in 1950 after signing with Columbia Records. Rags to Riches, Because You, and Stranger in Paradise were some of his earliest chart toppers.
Bennett had a large fan base thanks to his lovely, silky voice, especially among the younger generation.
By the late ’50s, he had established himself as a major musical star. Nonetheless, Bennett was keen to try something new now. He started making jazz records after discovering the genre.
I Left My Heart in San Francisco, which became one of his most well-known songs, was originally the flip side of a record. When it was published in 1962, it immediately became a hit, and Bennett went on to win his first Grammys for Best Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance for the song. The song had been composed in 1953, but it became somewhat of a hallmark track — and opened the door for a lot more success.
“We were on our way to San Francisco and RalphSharon — who was my accompanist at the time — said, ‘You have to listen to this song.’. That was the first time I had ever heard I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” Bennett recalled.
Sold more than 50 million records
“And on that trip, we had a show at a little club in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We were rehearsing the song and a musician came over and said: ‘If you record that song, it’s going to be a big hit’.
“So when we got to San Francisco, we started performing it and everybody said ‘Where did you find that song? You need to record it right away.’ We recorded it and, sure enough, it became the biggest record I ever had.”
Because of its success, Bennett was catapulted to the next level of fame. In 2018, the Library of Congress decided it was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” enough to be preserved in the National Recording Registry.
All day long, one might discuss Tony Bennett’s remarkable career. Given their divergent opinions on the type of music that Tony should be releasing, the iconic musician made the decision to part ways with Columbia Records and pursue new creative endeavors. When things got tough, he kept going. And for that, we are eternally appreciative.
Bennett has had an incredible career, releasing 60 studio albums and 11 live albums and selling over 50 million records throughout the world. Duets II, released in 2011, was his first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Tony Bennett’s passion has always been music, but that’s not all he thinks about. He and his wife, Susan Crow, established the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts to nurture young talent in New York.
Bennett had little trouble deciding on a name for the institution.
“He changed my life,” Bennett told The Guardian.
“In [an article in] Life magazine, he was emphatic about saying that I was the best singer he’d ever heard. I was moderately popular then, and every so often I’d have a million-selling record, but for me it was about being good, not the most famous.
“[Then] he called me the best he’d heard. And since then, I sold out around the world. I thought [naming the school after him] was proper etiquette.”
Bennett is not just a skilled musician, but also a painter of considerable skill. His works, which he always signs with his given name, Anthony Benedetto, have been shown in numerous successful exhibits.
“The greatest compliment I could ever get is being called a good singer and a good painter. I’ve always had a passion for both,” he explained. “I love both equally. It’s like a balance.
“But I paint almost every day. I like oils best, but when I travel I do a lot of watercolor, pen and ink, sketches and charcoal. I did some watercolors at the beach in Jupiter.”
By performing duets with the late Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga, Tony has also expanded his fan base among young people. This year, though, his life took an unexpected and dramatic turn.
Tony Bennett – Alzheimer’s
The Grammy-winning artist spoke with the Alzheimer’s Association about his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, a “degenerative brain disease” that causes memory loss, in an interview.
“Tony Bennett has Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of age-related dementia,” ARRP reported.
According to the ARRP, Tony was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016. However, his wife Susan said that he was “showing clear signs of the disease” by 2018.
Although though Bennett has experienced “cognitive problems,” his neurologist, Dr. Gayartri Devi, says he is doing well. Despite this, “multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well,” as the doctor put it.
“He is doing so many things at 94. He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder,” Dr. Devi added, crediting Susan for her “level of devotion” for her husband.
“I’ve been humbled by [her]. She also expects a lot from him. I think her background as a teacher helps, but she’s also very much in love with him. And he rises to her expectations.”
Tony Bennett and his wife, Susan Crow, were spotted in New York City in early July. They attended the Tony’s MTV Unplugged Event, where Tony performed with Lady Gaga. Apparently, he was “happier than ever,” as reported by Closer Weekly.
Final performances with Lady Gaga
There’s no denying that Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, but it’s encouraging to see Tony thriving in spite of his diagnosis.
There was recent good news concerning Tony Bennett’s future.
Bennett’s 95th birthday falls on August 1, and to celebrate, Tony will perform at New York’s Radio City Music Hall for two nights alongside Lady Gaga that month. According to CNN, “their final performances together” are happening right now.
Not only that, but a press statement claims that this will be Bennett’s final show ever in the Big Apple. This event is “set appropriately at a venue that Tony has enjoyed a multi-decade run of sold-out shows.”
The pair will also drop a new collaborative record later this year.
“I am so honored and excited to celebrate Tony’s 95th birthday with him at these special shows,” Gaga said.
Tony has accomplished a lot in his life and can probably achieve anything once. The lifelong performer and winner of multiple Grammys has spent his career giving others reason to believe in the power of art to change the world.
What do you think has been your highest accolade?
“Meeting Susan, being an American and the reaction I get from my audiences. I can’t even describe how phenomenal that has been in my life,” he said.
Tony Bennett is an all-time great, therefore we pray that even with Alzheimer’s he will have many more years of life to enjoy. Tony, I appreciate all of the fantastic music you’ve created.
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