Tony Bennett Biography

Anthony Dominick Benedetto, 13 August 1926, Astoria, New York, USA. The son of an Italian father and American mother, Bennett studied music and painting at the High School of Industrial Arts. He later became a talented artist, exhibiting under his real name in New York, Paris and London. Originally possessing a tenor voice that would deepen over the years, Bennett sang during service with the US Army’s entertainment unit late in World War II. Upon his discharge he worked in clubs before joining a Pearl Bailey revue in Greenwich Village as singer and master of ceremonies under the name of Joe Bari, where he was spotted by Bob Hope, who engaged him to sing in his Paramount show and changed his name to Tony Bennett. In 1950 he successfully auditioned for Columbia Records’ producer Mitch Miller, singing ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’, and a year later topped the US chart with ‘Because Of You’ and ‘Cold, Cold Heart’. Other 50s hits, mostly backed by the Percy Faith Orchestra, included ‘Rags To Riches’, ‘Just In Time’, ‘Stranger In Paradise’ (from Kismet), ‘There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight’, ‘Cinnamon Sinner’, ‘Can You Find It In Your Heart’ and ‘In The Middle Of An Island’.

In 1958, Bennett’s album Basie Swings, Bennett Sings was a precursor to later jazz-based work. That same year ‘Firefly’, by the new songwriting team of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, was Bennett’s last US Top 40 entry until 1962, when he made a major comeback with the 1954 song ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ (which won a Grammy Award) and a sell-out Carnegie Hall concert, which was recorded and released on a double-album set. During this period he continued his long association with pianist/arranger Ralph Sharon, and frequently featured cornet soloist Bobby Hackett. Often quoted as being unable to find suitable new material, Bennett nevertheless made the 60s singles charts with contemporary songs such as ‘I Wanna Be Around’, ‘The Good Life’, ‘Who Can I Turn To’ and ‘If I Ruled The World’. Even so, the future lay with concerts and his prolific album output, which included US Top 40 albums such as I Wanna Be Around, The Many Moods Of Tony, The Movie Song Album, and four albums with Canadian composer/conductor Robert Farnon.

In the 70s Bennett left Columbia Records and recorded for various labels including his own Improv Records, and made albums with jazz musicians Ruby Braff and Bill Evans. By the early 80s his career and personal life were in the doldrums, however, and it was thanks to his son Danny, who took over control of his father’s business interests, that he was able to make a comeback. His return to Columbia Records in the mid-80s produced The Art Of Excellence, which included a duet with Ray Charles, and Bennett/Berlin, a celebration of America’s premier songwriter, on which he was accompanied by the Ralph Sharon Trio. He continued to gain excellent reviews at venues such as the Desert Inn, Las Vegas, and in 1991 celebrated 40 years in the business with a concert at London’s Prince Edward Theatre. In 1993 and 1994 Bennett was awarded Grammys for ‘Best Traditional Pop Performance’ for his albums Perfectly Frank andSteppin’ Out. Around the same time, Bennett was ‘discovered’ by younger audiences following his appearances on the David Letterman Show, benefit shows hosted by ‘alternative rock’ radio stations, and his Unplugged session on the US cable channel MTV. The latter teamed him with contemporary artists k.d. lang and Elvis Costello. By the time he had gained two more Grammys and a World Music Award in 1995 for his MTV Unplugged, the album had spent 35 weeks at the top of the US Jazz chart. He received a second World Music Award for lifelong contribution to the music industry.

Bennett’s star continued to shine with 1995’s Here’s To The Ladies, a formidable collection of classic songs with particularly impressive versions of ‘God Bless The Child’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’. He expanded his Billie Holiday catalogue with 1997’s excellent On Holiday: A Tribute To Billie Holiday. The 90s ended with one of Bennett’s most critically acclaimed albums, the Duke Ellington tribute Bennett Sings Ellington Hot And Cool. Further recordings in the new millennium kept Bennett in the public eye, including a notable collaboration with k.d. lang on 2002’s A Wonderful World. He celebrated his 80th birthday in 2006 with a series of retrospective releases and a brand new duets album. His voice has ripened with age and he appears hip to a much wider and younger audience.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.