American Music Legend, Tony Bennett, Passes at 96

Chronicling the phenomenal journey of a Grammy-winning saloon singer.

by Nouman Rasool
American Music Legend, Tony Bennett, Passes at 96

NEW YORK CITY (AP) — Tony Bennett, the iconic and enduring vocalist whose devotion to timeless American classics and the creation of new standards such as "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" spanned an illustrious career that garnered him admiration from luminaries such as Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, passed away on Friday.

Bennett, who was two weeks shy of his 97th birthday, spent his life in dedicated service to American music. Bennett's publicist, Sylvia Weiner, confirmed his death to The Associated Press. Bennett passed away peacefully in his cherished hometown of New York.

No particular cause was attributed, though Bennett had been publicly battling Alzheimer's disease since his diagnosis in 2016.

Bennett: Lifelong Pursuit of Musical Legacy

A saloon singer par excellence from the mid-20th century, Bennett often voiced his lifelong ambition to compile "a hit catalog rather than hit records." A testament to his enduring relevance and talent, Bennett's prolific discography boasts more than 70 albums, earning him 19 competitive Grammy awards, the majority of which came after he crossed his 60s.

Bennett's charm lay in his unique approach to performing. He allowed the music, the works of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern, to weave their magic, interpreting a song rather than embodying it, a subtle contrast to his friend and mentor Sinatra.

His performances were devoid of the high drama that often characterized Sinatra’s; instead, Bennett charmed with a relaxed, courtly manner and an exceptionally rich and resilient voice. Throughout his career, Bennett received praise from his contemporaries, the most meaningful perhaps by Sinatra in a 1965 Life magazine interview.

Sinatra hailed Bennett as "the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more”. Despite the advent and domination of rock music, Bennett remained unyielding, gaining new fans and collaborators spanning generations.

At 88, he broke his own record as the oldest living performer with a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart for "Cheek to Cheek," his duets project with Lady Gaga. However, his most notable contribution came from a pair of unknowns, George Cory and Douglass Cross, who, during a career slump in the early '60s, gifted Bennett his signature song, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." The sentimental ballad quickly became a sensation, staying on the charts for more than two years and earning Bennett his first two Grammys, including record of the year.

In his later years, Bennett demonstrated his adaptability, reaching out to the MTV Generation. He was a frequent guest on "Late Night with David Letterman," and a celebrity guest artist on "The Simpsons." He donned a black T-shirt and sunglasses as a presenter with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the 1993 MTV Music Video Awards.

Bennett's legacy includes winning Grammys for his tributes to female vocalists ("Here’s to the Ladies"), Billie Holiday ("Tony Bennett on Holiday"), and Duke Ellington ("Bennett Sings Ellington — Hot & Cool").

Besides his singing career, Bennett was an avid painter. His artwork, signed with his family name Benedetto, includes portraits of his musician friends and Central Park landscapes, and his works are displayed in collections, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

Bennett's survivors include his wife Susan, his four children, Johanna, Antonia, Danny, and Dae, and nine grandchildren. His impact on American music and his commitment to the arts will continue to inspire future generations.