Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett has become one of the most recognizable jazz singers of all time due to both his universally loved, highly emotional singing style and his perseverance for more than half a century. Since his first hit in the early ‘50s, Bennett has been a major musical force every decade after.

Anthony Dominick Benedetto, which he would later shorten to Tony Bennett, was born in Queens, New York in 1926. He came from a poor Italian family that struggled through the Depression, even more so after his father died in 1936. But he also came from a family of art lovers, who fostered in Bennett a love of performing. At age 10, he performed at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. Three years later, he worked as a singing waiter in local Italian restaurants. He briefly attended the School of Industrial Art to study music and painting, but had to drop out when he was 16 in order to support his family.

In 1944, Bennett was drafted by the Army to serve in World War II. After fighting in France and Germany, he returned to the United States and used the GI Bill to further his passion for music. He enrolled in the American Theatre Wing and received classical training in the bel canto style. One of the biggest things Bennett learned from his time here, though, was the notion that a singer should look to other instrumentalists in the band for style and phrasing as a way to better improvise and harmonize. Always flawlessly in sync with his band, this would become Bennett’s signature.

In 1949, Bob Hope caught sight of Bennett and invited him on tour. Hope also suggested he shorten his name to Tony Bennett. In 1950, he was signed to Columbia Records. His first big hit was “Because of You,” recorded on year later. It stayed at the top of the pop charts for ten weeks and sold more than a million copies. Immediately, comparisons were made between him and Sinatra, but then Bennett released a rendition of Hank Williams’ country song “Cold, Cold Heart.” From then on, it was clear he had his own style. Bennett would continue to score a slew of hits throughout the ‘50s. In the meantime, he became a teen idol of sorts, selling out venues to screaming fans across the country. In 1956, he even had a short-lived variety show on NBC.

Bennett started making the transition to jazz in the late ‘50s. Under the direction of Chuck Wayne, he began experimenting with a more mature sound. 1955’s Cloud 7 featured longform jazz tunes, instead of his usual pop singles. The height of Bennett’s jazz sound would be 1957’s The Beat of My Heart inspired by the likes of Art Blakey and Chicago Hamilton. This would lead to a number of performances with the Count Basie Orchestra, making him the first male singer to perform with the famed jazz band.

By this point, Bennett was considered both a critical and commercial success -- both a “serious” artist and a pop artist. In 1962, he organized an all-star concert at Carnegie Hall featuring Al Cohn, Kenny Burrell, Candido, and the Ralph Sharon Trio. That same year, he released what would become his signature hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” But things became rocky in the mid-’60s with the decline in popularity of jazz. His singles fell on the charts, and a poor performance in the 1966 film The Oscar tarnished his reputation even more. Bennett is better known during this time period for championing civil rights. He was a vocal proponent of the Civil Right Movement and participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches.

The ‘70s were a rough time for Bennett. Struggling with drug addiction and artistic differences with his label, he had a hard time releasing music or even booking gigs. But with the help of his son, Bennett eventually made a comeback in 1986. He signed with Columbia Records again, and released The Art of Excellence, his first chart topper in more than ten years.

Since then, Bennett has been a major force on the pop music scene. He found a way to connect with young audiences in the ‘80s and ‘90s -- mostly through appearances on MTV and The Simpsons -- but, now with more creative control than ever, also stayed true to his original sound. He’s continues to do the same now. Some of his most recent, most notable duets include a successful string of songs with Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse. Over the course of his career, Bennett has won multiple Grammys (including one for the 1995 live album MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett), and two Emmys. He’s also an American Jazz Master and a Kennedy Center Honoree.

From teen idol to jazz master, Bennett has made his mark on American music. His smooth, resonant voice makes him well-suited for a variety of genres, and you can see the breadth of his repertoire in his discography.

Tony Bennett Videos

Tony Bennett duet with Bono - I Wanna Be Around...

Tony Bennett teams up with Bono for "I Wanna Be Around..."

Bono and Bennett really belt it out in this duet of "I Wanna Be Around." Both singers are known for having particularly powerful voices, and it's

Tony Bennett with Billy Joel - The Good Life

Tony Bennett and Billy Joel team up for "The Good Life"

Two pop powerhouses meet in this rendition of "The Good Life." Joel and Bennett are both known for their great stage presence.

Tony Bennett - It Had to Be You

Tony Bennett performs "It Had To Be You" for MTV Unplugged

Once again performing for MTV Unplugged, Bennett belts out "It Had To Be You." In this video, it's clear why Bennett rocketed to the top of the c

Tony Bennett duet with Michael Bublé - Just in Time

Old and new jazz combine with Tony Bennett and Michael Buble on "Just In Time"

Michael Buble and Tony Bennett have a lot in common. Both has immensely listenable, incredibly smooth voices.

Tony Bennett duet with Sting - The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Tony Bennett and Sting cover "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams"

Though Green Day may have popularized the title, Bennett recorded a demo of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" in 1950, and was then immediately signed

Tony Bennett - Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Tony Bennett covers "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" during MTV Unplugged

Though he's always been seen as a jazz singer, Bennett's never really been one for improvisation.

Tony Bennett & Elvis Costello and Diana Krall

Elvis Costello interviews Tony Bennett for a TV special

This TV special, hosted by Costello, is a retrospective of Bennett's career.

Tony Bennett - For Once In My Life

"For Once In My Life" by Tony Bennett

"For Once in My Life" is a single from Bennett's 1965 album of the same name. It's classic Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett, Norah Jones - Speak Low

"Speak Low" by Tony Bennett and Norah Jones

When Norah Jones and Tony Bennett team up for "Speak Low," it's a meeting of two of the greatest voices in jazz.


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