Music History

RIP Tony Bennett. He made it in the music biz for 80 years.

Great American Songbook interpreter Tony Bennett has died at the age of 96, two weeks short of his 97th birthday. He’d been living with Alzheimer’s since a diagnosis in 2016.

Why would a website like this, one devoted mainly to rock and tech, give space to Tony Bennett? Out of respect.

There are many obituaries you can read online, but here’s what Tony Bennett meant to me:

His real name was Anthony Dominick Benedetto. He started singing in the streets as a kid, won a radio talent contest and started playing clubs as a singer of standards and jazz. He was discovered by Bob Hope while singing in Greenwich Village in New York. He’s the one who told Anthony to change his name.

He started recording 78s in 1949. Bennett’s first record contract was through Mitch Miller at Columbia Records. Bennett recorded many middle of the road hits through the 50s and 60s. His biggest hit came in 1962 with “I Left My Heart in San Fransisco,” which was originally a B-side which was discovered by radio DJs. It was his pianist, Ralph Sharon, who found the sheet music of a song written by a couple of unknowns.

Bennett continued to be successful for the non-rock crowd through the 1960s. But things didn’t go well in the 70s. He got discovered again, had IRS issues, and developed a drug addiction. It wasn’t until his son, Danny, started managing him in 1980 things began to turn around. Bennett still had his older, traditional fans, but with Danny looked for ways to modernize his appeal. Suddenly, he started showing up on hip TV shows like David Letterman,

By the 90s, Bennett was this ironically cool anachronism, appearing on the MTV Music Video Awards with the Red Hot Chili Peppers while wearing a black t-shirt and shades. Later, he’d collaborate with Amy Winehouse, Carrie Underwood, and most famously, Lady Gaga. Hit albums followed, including a #1 record at the age of 88. He never lost his old-school following and picked up new fans along the way.

The Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in 2016, but he persevered, helped along through performances and recording sessions by people close to him.

In 1965, Frank Sinatra declared Tony Bennett to the world’s greatest singer. His music may not be for you, but his ability to bring maximum emotion to the songs he sung was undeniable.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38553 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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