Tony Bennett (Photo: Liam Goodner / Shutterstock.com)
ANTHONY DOMINICK BENEDETTO, known professionally as TONY BENNETT, the last of the old-time torch singers equally adept at jazz, pop and R&B, died FRIDAY (7/21) in NEW YORK at 96.Born AUGUST 3rd, 1926, in ASTORIA, QUEENS, NY, BENNETT performed with military bands in GERMANY during WORLD WAR II. In 1946, he made his debut in a nightclub, sitting in as a singer with trombonist TYREE GLENN at the SHANGRI-LA in ASTORIA. His big break came three years later, when BOB HOPE discovered him working with PEARL BAILEY at a club in NEW YORK’s GREENWICH VILLAGE. Signing to COLUMBIA RECORDS, his longtime label home, in 1951, BENNETT had his first chart-topping Pop single with the MITCH MILLER-produced, PERCY FAITH-conducted orchestral arrangement OF “Because Of You,” followed by his version of HANK WILLIAMS’ “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Blue Velvet” and a big-band swing number “Rags To Riches” before refining his jazz techniques on such late-‘50s albums as “The Beat Of My Heart” and “Basie Swings, Bennett Sings.” BENNETT hosted an NBC SATURDAY night variety show in 1956 as a summer replacement for “THE PERRY COMO SHOW.”In 1962, BENNETT recorded what became his signature song, GEORGE CORY and DOUGLASS CROSS’ “I Left My Heart In SAN FRANCISCO,” which won GRAMMY AWARDs for Record Of The Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance, two of a total of 17 GRAMMYs won by BENNETT over the years. In 2001, “I Left My Heart” was ranked 23rd on an RIAA list of the most historically significant songs of the 20th century. After some relatively fallow years in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, BENNETT saw his career take another upswing under the management of his son DANNY. Believing a younger audience would respond to his dad’s music, DANNY began booking TONY on the late-night talk show circuit, including appearances on “THE SIMPSONS,” “MUPPETS TONIGHT” and, most notably, MTV. He recorded tribute albums to FRANK SINATRA and FRED ASTAIRE, both winning GRAMMYs for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance (his first since 1962). In 1994, BENNETT’s “MTV Unplugged” album, recorded during his show on the youth network (featuring ELVIS COSTELLO and k.d. lang), went platinum, winning not only his third straight GRAMMY for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance, but taking home Album Of The Year also.BENNETT’s career continued to flourish to the end of the century into the next, performing a hundred shows a year to the end of the ‘90s. He received a star on the HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME, was awarded the GRAMMY LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in 2001, an ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and was the recipient of a KENNEDY CENTER HONOR award in 2005.In 2006, BENNETT celebrated his 80th birthday with the release of “Duets: An AMERICAN Classic,” which was his highest-charting album, winning a pair of GRAMMY AWARDS in the process. The ROB MARSHALL-directed TV special, “TONY BENNETT: An AMERICAN Classic,” on NBC, won multiple EMMY AWARDS. In SEPTEMBER, 2011, his album, “Duets II,” featured collaborations with ARETHA FRANKLIN, WILLIE NELSON, QUEEN LATIFAH and LADY GAGA as well as a performance of “Body And Soul” with AMY WINEHOUSE, reportedly the last recording she made before he death, released as a single, reaching the Top 15 in several EUROPEAN countries and earning a GRAMMY for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The album itself nabbed a GRAMMY for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.He performed for the first time in ISRAEL in SEPTEMBER, 2014, where he made a surprise appearance onstage with LADY GAGA in TEL AVIV, just days before the release of the two stars’ collaborative, “Cheek To Cheek” album, which debuted at #1 on the BILLBOARD charts and won the GRAMMY in 2015 for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, the sixth time he’d won the award. At the end of 2014, BENNETT and LADY GAGA kicked off their co-headlining “Cheek To Cheek” tour.BENNETT also had success as a painter, under his real name ANTHONY BENEDETTO, exhibiting his work in numerous galleries around the world. His painting, “Homage To HOCKNEY,” for fellow painter DAVID HOCKNEY after he drew him, is on permanent display at the BUTLER INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN ART in YOUNGSTOWN, OH, while his “Central Park” is at the SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM in WASHINGTON, DC. He published an art book, ‘TONY BENNETT: What My Heart Has Seen,” in 1996 and in 2007, another volume of his paintings, “TONY BENNETT In The Studio: A Life Of Art & Music,” was an art-book best-seller. BENNETT is survived by his third wife, SUSAN CROW; two daughters, JOANNA and ANTONIA, a jazz singer who frequently opens his shows, from his second marriage to SANDRA GRANT; and two children from his first marriage to PATRICIA BEECH, sons D’ANDREA (DANNY), his current manager, and DAEGAL (DAE), a recording engineer.
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