Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto August 3, 1926, is an American singer who sings popular music, jazz standards and original songs. His career was a long-term downturn after he had enjoyed commercial and artistic success in the 1950s/early 1960s. Bennett made a remarkable comeback in the 1990s and 2000s. He expanded his audience to younger generations while still maintaining his musical style. In the 2000s, Bennett is still a highly regarded and critically acclaimed concert performer and recording artist. Bennett is also a talented painter. He created works under the name Anthony Benedetto. Anthony Benedetto, the son Ann (née Suraci) Benedetto, was born in Astoria (Queens), New York City. His father, a grocer, had immigrated from Podargoni in the eastern Italian region of Reggio Calabria. His mother, a seamstress, was also a grocer. The family was raised in poverty with two other children, and an ailing father. Anthony was only 10 years old when John Benedetto passed away. Growing up, Benedetto was a big fan of jazz musicians such as Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, Al Jolson and Judy Garland. His uncle was a tap dancer and vaudeville performer, which gave him an early glimpse into the show business. He was already singing at age 10, and performed at opening of Triborough Bridge. He was also a keen artist and a passionate caricaturer. At the age of 16, he dropped out of New York’s High School of Industrial Art to study music and painting. [6] After he left New York’s High School of Industrial Art, he began to pursue a career in professional singing. He worked as a waiter at several Queens Italian restaurants. World War II and After His singing career was cut short when Benedetto was drafted in the United States Army during the last stages of World War II. After basic training at Fort Dix, he was confronted with bigotry because of his Italian heritage and became an infantry rifleman. After passing through the massive Le Havre “repple-depple” replacement depot in January 1945, he was assigned to the 255th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division as a replacement infantryman. This unit was responsible for replacing heavy losses sustained in the Battle of the Buldge. As March 1945 approached, he moved through France and Germany and joined the front line. He later described it as a “front row seat in hell”. Benedetto’s company witnessed bitter fighting as the German Army tried to push back into their homeland. They were often forced to hide in foxholes and hunkered down in foxholes while German 88mm guns fired at them. They crossed the Rhine at the end March and engaged in dangerous house to house, town-to–town fighting to clear out German soldiers. The Kocher was crossed by them during the first week April and they reached the Danube by the end June. Benedetto was almost killed several times during his combat time. He became a patriot and a pacifist through the experience. Later, he wrote that “Anyone who believes war is romantic hasn’t been through one.” He was also involved in liberating a Nazi concentration camp close to Landsberg. There, some American prisoners-of-war from the 63rd Division were also released. Benedetto was part of the occupying force in Germany, but was later assigned to an informal Special Services unit that would entertain American forces. Later, he was demoted after he ate with a black friend from highschool at a time when the Army was still segregated. He was re-assigned to Graves Registration duties. He sang in the Army’s military band, performing under the stage name Joe Bari. He also played with musicians who would go on to have successful post-war careers. After his discharge from the Army in 1946 and his return to the States, he studied at American Theater Wing under the GI Bill. He was taught the Bel Canto singing discipline which would help him keep his voice healthy throughout his career. He performed wherever he could, even while waiting tables. His unusual method involved him imitating the style of other musicians while he sang, such as Stan Getz’s saxophone or Art Tatum’s piano. This allowed him to improvise and interpret songs. In 1949, he recorded a few songs as Bari for the small Leslie Records. They didn’t sell. Pearl Bailey saw his talent in 1949 and asked him to perform for her in Greenwich Village. She invited Bob Hope to the show. Hope invited Bari to the show, but suggested that he change his name to Tony Bennett. Mitch Miller signed Bennett to Columbia Records in 1950 after he recorded a demo of Bennett’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. First successes Bennett’s first success was not imitating Frank Sinatra, who was leaving Columbia at the time. He began his career singing pop songs as a crooner. He had his first hit with “Because of You”, which was a ballad that Miller produced and featured an orchestral arrangement by Percy Faith. It gained popularity initially on jukeboxes. In 1951, it reached #1 on the pop charts. The song remained there for 10 weeks and sold over one million copies. The song was then followed by a similar-styled version of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart”, which brought country music to a larger, more diverse audience. All of Bennett’s early hits were recorded by Faith and Miller. Bennett’s recording “Blue Velvet”, which was also very well-received, attracted screaming teenager fans at New York’s Paramount Theater concerts (Bennett performed 7 shows per day, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and continuing to other locations). Bennett married Patricia Beech, an Ohio jazz fan and Ohio art student, on February 12, 1952. He had met Patricia the year before at a Cleveland nightclub. In mock mourning, two thousand women dressed in black gathered at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Bennett and Beech would have D’Andrea (Danny), and Daegal(Dae) sons. The 1953 #1 hit “Rags to Riches” was the third. This was a big band number featuring a strong, brassy sound. It also featured a double tango at the instrumental break. It topped the charts for eight consecutive weeks, which is quite different from Bennett’s earlier hits. Bennett started singing show tunes later that year to make up for a New York newspaper strikes; “Stranger in Paradise”, from Broadway’s Kismet, reached the top. It was also a #1 hit in the United Kingdom. This song launched Bennett’s international career. The music industry’s dynamic changed after the advent of rock and roll in 1955. It became more difficult for pop singers to make a living commercially. Bennett enjoyed continued success. He placed eight songs on the Billboard Top 40 in the second half of the 1950s. “In the Middle of an Island”, which reached the top at #9, was the highest at the time in 1957. Bennett hosted The Tony Bennett Show, a television variety show that was created to replace The Perry Como Show in summer 1956. Growing artistry: In 1954, Chuck Wayne was appointed Bennett’s musical director. Bennett’s first long-playing album, Cloud 7 (which showed Bennett’s jazz inclinations and was billed to include Wayne), was released in 1955. Bennett’s musical director and pianist was replaced by Wayne in 1957 by Ralph Sharon. Sharon advised Bennett to put aside his desire to sing “sweet saccharine” songs like “Blue Velvet”, and encourage him to concentrate more on his jazz interests. The Beat of My Heart was released in 1957. The album featured jazz legends like Herbie Mann, Nat Adderley, and Chico Hamilton. There was also a strong emphasis placed on the percussion of Latin stars Candido and Jo Jones. It was critically and popularly acclaimed. Bennett was the first male pop singer to perform with Basie’s orchestra, and he continued his work with the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie Swings and Bennett Sings (1958), as well as In Person! This collaboration was well-respected, with “Chicago”, one of the most popular songs, being the album Basie Swings, Bennett Sings (1958) and In Person! Bennett built up the reputation and quality of his nightclub act, following in the footsteps of Sinatra as well as other top jazz and standards performers of the era. Bennett was also a guest on television, singing on both the Johnny Carson The Tonight Show as well as The Merv Griffin Show’s first night. Bennett hosted a Carnegie Hall concert in June 1962. He used a stellar line-up of musicians, including Al Cohn and Kenny Burrell. The concert featured 44 songs including “I’ve Got the World on a String” as well as “The Best Is Yet To Come.” It was a huge success and cemented Bennett’s stardom at home as well as abroad. In 1962, Bennett also released “I Left My Heart” in San Francisco. This song reached #19 on Billboard Hot 100 but it spent nearly a year on other charts, increasing Bennett’s exposure. The album with the same title reached the top five [5] and both single and album were awarded gold records status. It won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year as well as Best Male Solo Vocal Performance. Bennett would be known for this song over the years. It was ranked 23rd in an RIAA/NEA listing of the 20th Century’s most significant songs. Bennett’s next album, I Wanna Be Around (1963), was also a top five success. The title track and “The Good Life”, both reached the top 20 on the pop singles charts and the top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The British Invasion and The Beatles were both released the following year. They brought with them more cultural and musical attention to rock music than to jazz, standards and pop music. Bennett had minor hits over the next few years with several singles and albums based on show songs – his last Top 40 single was the #34 single “If I Ruled the World” by Pickwick in 1965. But his commercial fortunes were clearly beginning to decline. A role in 1966’s film The Oscar was Bennett’s attempt to get into acting. Bennett was a strong believer in the American Civil Rights movement and participated in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches. He would refuse to perform in South Africa’s apartheid South Africa years later. After years of struggle, Bennett and Sharon parted ways in 1965. Singers like Barbra Streisand and Lena Horne were under pressure to record “contemporary rock songs”. Clive Davis, Columbia Records’ Clive Davis, suggested that Bennett do so. Bennett was reluctant to record and the results were not pleasing anyone. Tony Sings The Great Hits of Today was an example of this. (1969) – which featured misguided attempts to use Beatles and other current songs, and a ridiculous psychedelic cover. Bennett would later recall his disappointment at being asked to perform contemporary material. He compared it to the time his mother had to make a poor dress. He had left Columbia by 1972 to join MGM Records. However, he found little success there and was soon without a record contract. Bennett and Patricia had been divorced since 1965. Their marriage was a result of too many years on the road. Their divorce was finalized in 1971. Bennett was involved with Sandra Grant, an aspiring actress, since The Oscar. They were married on December 29, 1971. Joanna and Antonia would be their two daughters. Bennett began Improv, his own record label. Some of his songs would become classics, like “What is This Thing Called Love?” He also recorded two albums with Bill Evans, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975), and Together Again (1976), which were both highly regarded. However, Improv was closed by 1977. Like other American jazz expatriates from America, he did not have a stint in England. Bennett was without a record contract or manager by the end of the decade. He also stopped performing outside of Las Vegas. He was in a second marriage that failed. They would separate in 1979 but not legally divorce until 2007. Like many musicians, he had a drug addiction and was living beyond his means. The Internal Revenue Service tried to seize his Los Angeles house. He was at the bottom. Turnaround Bennett called Danny and Dae, his sons, after a near fatal cocaine overdose in 1979. He told them, “Look, it’s me lost here.” “It seems that people don’t want the music I make.” Danny Bennett, an aspiring musician, came to the same realization. Quacky Duck and His Barnyard friends, the band Danny and his brother started, had failed and Danny’s musical skills were very limited. He had realized, however, that he was a good businessman. His father was a talented musician but struggled to sustain a career. Danny was hired to be his father’s manager. Danny managed to control his father’s expenses, relocated him to New York and started booking him in small theatres and colleges to remove him from the “Vegas” image. Tony Bennett was also back with Ralph Sharon, his pianist and musical advisor. Tony Bennett, now with creative control, was signed to Columbia Records by 1986 and released The Art of Excellence. This was his first album to chart since 1972. Unexpected audience. Many artists and listeners had a greater appreciation of the classic American song by the mid-1980s thanks to the excesses in disco, punk, and new wave eras. Linda Ronstadt, a rock star, began recording albums of standard songs. These songs started appearing more often in television commercials and movie soundtracks. Danny Bennett believed that even though they were not familiar with Tony Bennett’s music, younger audiences would be drawn to it if given the opportunity to hear it. Importantly, Tony Bennett was not required to change his appearance (tuxedo), style of singing (his own), or musical accompaniment (The Ralph Sharon Trio and an orchestra), nor did he need to alter his song selection (generally The Great American Songbook). Danny started booking his father on shows with younger viewers, including David Letterman’s talk show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Simpsons. Tony later recalled that the plan worked and that young people hadn’t heard the songs. Cole Porter, Gershwin, they were all like “Who wrote that?” It was different to them. You stand out if you are different. Bennett continued recording during this period, first releasing the highly regarded look back Astoria Portrait of the Artist (1990). Next, Bennett focused on themed albums like the Sinatra tribute Perfectly Frank (1992), and Steppin’ Out (1993). Both of these albums were awarded gold status and won Grammys as Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance. This was Bennett’s first Grammys since 1962. It also established Bennett as the inheritor the legacy of an American classic. Bennett was on the MTV Video Music Awards show side-by-side with Flavor Flav and Red Hot Chili Peppers. His “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” video was also airplayed by MTV. It was evident that Bennett, according to The New York Times, has “not only bridged the generation gap but he has destroyed it.” Bennett has formed solid connections with younger rock fans. There have been no compromises. Bennett’s 1994 appearance on MTV Unplugged was the highlight of this new audience. The show featured guest appearances from Elvis Costello (rock and country star) and k.d. The show featured guest appearances by Elvis Costello and k.d. lang, both of whom were deeply committed to the standards genre. The MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett album was certified platinum. It also received the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance Grammy award, and won the Grammy top prize for Album of the Year. Tony Bennett, 68, was a veteran of the music industry. Tony Bennett, no retirement, performing at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, September 2005. Bennett has been on tour for 200 shows per year since then. Bennett will often sing a single song in concert, usually “Fly Me to the Moon”, without using any microphones or amplifiers. This allows him to demonstrate to the younger audience the art of vocal projection. Tony Bennett’s Wonderful World Live From San Francisco was made into a PBS Special. Bennett was also the original creator of the ATV series and starred in it.

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