Tony Bennett, the silky American singer who had an enduring hit with I Left My Heart In San Francisco and stayed continuously cool enough to win over younger generations of fans long into the twenty-first century, died on Friday (July 21) at the age of 96, according to the Associated Press.
After becoming a sensation in the 1950s, no less than Frank Sinatra dubbed the former singing waiter “the best singer in the business.” Bennett went on to earn 20 Grammys, including one for lifetime achievement.
His colleagues became more diversified as he grew older. Bennett was in his late 80s when he made a duet album with Lady Gaga in 2014 and went on a world tour with her in 2015. On his renowned Duet albums, he collaborated with everyone from former Beatle Paul McCartney and soul queen Aretha Franklin to country icon Willie Nelson and U2’s Bono.
Due to his work with Lady Gaga, he earned increased notice late in his career. They collaborated on the 2014 jazz standards album Cheek to Cheek, as well as the 2021 follow-up, Love for Sale.]
They went on tour to promote the previous album, which made Bennett the oldest living act to top the US album chart. Bennett set a Guinness World Record for the oldest musician to release a collection of new songs with the second release.
Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016 but did not make his condition public until 2021. Later that year, he performed his final performance with Gaga.
Bennett’s children Danny, Dae, Joanna, and Antonia, as well as his third wife Susan Crow, survive him.
Sir Elton John led the tributes on social media, saying he was “so sad to hear of Tony’s passing” in an Instagram statement.
“Without doubt the classiest singer, man, and performer you will ever see,” Sir Elton said. “He’s irreplaceable. I loved and adored him. Condolences to Susan, Danny, and the family.”
Former US first lady Hillary Clinton described Tony Bennett as a “true talent, a true gentleman, and a true friend”. She tweeted: “We’ll miss you, Tony, and thanks for all the memories.”
Singer Carole King said: “RIP Tony Bennett. Such a big loss. Deepest sympathy to his family and the world.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, singer Billy Joel said: “Tony Bennett was one of the most important interpreters of American popular song during the mid to late 20th Century.
“Tony Bennett championed songwriters who might otherwise have remained unknown to many millions of music fans. His was a unique voice that made the transition from the era of Jazz into the age of Pop.
“I will always be grateful for his outstanding contribution to the art of contemporary music. He was a joy to work with. His energy and enthusiasm for the material he was performing was infectious. He was also one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever known.”
Director Martin Scorsese added: “Very early on, his music quietly wove itself into the fabric of our lives. His voice felt as familiar and as close as the voices of our loved ones. I know that this was true for millions of people around the world.”
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, to a family of Italian immigrants, Tony Bennett was just nine years old when his father died, plunging the family further into poverty.
He worked as a singing waiter as a teenager before enrolling in the School of Industrial Art in New York to study music and painting.
Tony Bennett was drafted into the US Army in 1944 to fight in France and Germany towards the end of World War Two. “It’s legalized murder,” he said of the scarring experience in an interview with the Guardian in 2013.