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Music legend Tony Bennett passes away, aged 96

With 20 Grammy Awards to his name, Tony Bennett will be remembered for a career that spanned eight decades, finding success initially in the 1950s, and to new legions of fans from the 1980s on
July 21, 2023/23.06

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Above: Tony Bennett performing with Lady Gaga at the Royal Albert Hall in 2015.
The legendary singer Tony Bennett has passed away in New York, aged 96, according to his representatives.

His publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed his passing in a statement to the Associated Press. She did not give a specific cause of death, though Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

On his Twitter account was this statement: ‘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.’

Bennett won 20 Grammy Awards, including one for lifetime achievement, in his eight-decade-long career.

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926 in Long Island City, Queens, to an Italian immigrant father and an Italian-American mother, he had two older siblings. His father was ill and passed away when he was 10.

The young Anthony grew up listening to Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and others.

By 10 he was already performing, and sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. He began performing professionally at age 13, initially as a singing waiter in Queens. He dropped out of school at 16 to help support his family, working at the Associated Press as a runner, among other low-wage jobs, but pursued his singing career as a singing waiter and winning amateur competitions.

Drafted into the Army in 1944, Benedetto saw active service in France and Germany and narrowly escaped death numerous times. The experience made him a pacifist. He also sang with Special Services bands while with the occupying forces in Germany, using the stage name Joe Bari, which he had adopted before the war.

After the war, he studied at the American Theatre Wing on the GI Bill. By 1949 he had a few unsuccessful recordings. That year, Pearl Bailey recognized his talent and asked him to open for her, to a show where Bob Hope had been invited. It was Hope who Anglicized Benedetto’s name to Tony Bennett, and took him on the road. In 1950, he was signed to Columbia Records.

In 1951, his recording of ‘Because of You’, arranged by Percy Faith, reached number one, staying there for 10 weeks. It was soon followed by two more number ones: ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ and ‘Rags to Riches’.

In 1952, he married Patricia Beech, an Ohio art student whom he had met the year before, and had two sons. They separated in 1965.

In 1953, Bennett recorded ‘Stranger in Paradise’ from Kismet, and he began recording show tunes. He continued to have top 10 hits through the 1950s, and his own TV show on NBC in 1956.

His first LP, Cloud 7, débuted in 1955, and began moving Bennett into jazz, something that became more pronounced with 1957’s The Beat of My Heart. Collaborations with Count Basie followed with Basie Swings, Bennett Sings in 1958 and In Person! in 1959.

He held a concert performance at Carnegie Hall in 1962, and appeared on the first episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He also recorded ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ that year, which became his signature song.

His next album, I Wanna Be Around … (1963) was also a success.

With pressure to record contemporary songs in the 1960s, Bennett had less successful results.

His second wife was actress Sandra Grant, whom he married after his divorce became final in 1971, and had two daughters. They were married until 1983.

After departing Columbia, he relocated to London in the 1970s and briefly hosted a TV show, Tony Bennett at the Talk of the Town, but found himself without a recording contract.

Starting his own label, Improv, he recorded two albums with Bill Evans, but a lack of distribution forced the label to close.

By the end of the 1970s, Bennett had a drug addiction and suffered a near-fatal cocaine overdose. His son Danny became Bennett’s manager, and moved him back to New York, reuniting him with Ralph Sharon as his musical director. In 1986, Bennett re-signed with Columbia, releasing a new album, The Art of Excellence, the first of his to chart since 1972. From the movie That’s Life (1986), Henry Mancini’s ‘Life in a Looking Glass’, which Bennett performed, received an Academy Award nomination.

He began a relationship with former teacher Susan Crow in the late 1980s, and they married in a private civil ceremony in 2007.

Danny Bennett booked his father in to late night television shows, believing that a younger audience would enjoy the performances. Bennett found new success in the 1990s as a result, including two themed albums that went gold, Perfectly Frank and Steppin’ Out. They won Grammys for Bennett, his first since 1962. His MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett album reached platinum, winning the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance and Album of the Year Grammys.

His career firmly re-established, Bennett continued to win accolades, with a further 11 competitive Grammy Awards (most recently in 2022) and a lifetime achievement award. He collaborated with younger artists including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, Carrie Underwood, and fellow Italian-American Lady Gaga.

He became the oldest living artist to top the US charts, in 2014, aged 88.

Despite his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which had not affected his long-term memory, including his performances’ lyrics, he continued to sing until 2021, with a final album release, Love for Sale, with Lady Gaga. His final performances were also with Lady Gaga, on August 3 and 5, 2021, as was his last TV appearance on December 16, 2021 (recorded in July). However, he continued to rehearse three times a week, according to Danny Bennett.

Bennett was also a talented painter and used his real name, Anthony Benedetto, and founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens.

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Filed by Lucire staff