Childhood & Early Life
Tony Bennett was born as Anthony Dominick Benedetto on 3 August 1926, in Astoria, Queens, New York. His mother Anna Suraci was a seamstress and father John Benedetto was a grocer who died when Tony was ten. He grew up with his two older siblings.
By the age of ten, Tony was already singing. He also developed a love for fine arts. He enrolled at New York's School of Industrial Art. However, at the age of 16, he dropped out to support his poverty-stricken family.
Initially he served as a copy boy for the Associated Press and also took several other low-paying jobs. Later, he began performing as a singing waiter all around the city, in nightclubs, bars, functions, and events.
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In November 1944, Benedetto joined the United States Army during the final stages of the World War II. During his time there, he sang under the stage name Joe Bari and performed with the 314th Army Special Services Band.
Upon his discharge in 1946, Benedetto returned to the States and continued singing wherever he could. He also made a few recordings in 1949 but they failed to sell.
Soon after this, the actress/singer Pearl Bailey recognized his talent and asked him to sing for her in an event opening. Bob Hope, who was also invited to the show, decided to give Benedetto a chance. Benedetto was then named “Tony Bennett” by Hope and signed to the major Columbia Records.
Bennett began his professional music career as a crooner of pop tunes. His first hit was the ballad "Because of You” which was produced by Mitch Miller. After the commercial success of the song, Miller continued to produce all of Bennett's early tracks. The latter’s "Blue Velvet" also went on to become quite popular.
In 1953, the singer once again gained fame with his "Rags to Riches". Soon after this, the producers of the Broadway musical ‘Kismet’ asked Bennett to sing “Stranger in Paradise” as a mode of promotion of their show. The song became a huge hit not only in the USA but in the UK as well.
In 1955, the American singer released his first long-playing album titled ‘Cloud 7’. Two years later, he came out with the album ‘The Beat of My Heart’. This album featured well-known jazz musicians Nat Adderley and Herbie Mann.
With the beginning of the rock and roll era in the mid-1950s, Bennett continued to enjoy success, placing the song "In the Middle of an Island" at number 9 in the Billboard Top 40 in 1957.
Bennett then went on to work with the Count Basie Orchestra. Their collaborative albums titled ‘Basie Swings, Bennett Sings’ and ‘In Person’ turned out to be huge hits.
In 1962, the artiste released the single "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and also the album with the same title. Both the album and song managed to achieve gold record status. The following year, he came out with his album titled ‘I Wanna Be Around’. This album too went on to become a success with the title song and the single "The Good Life".
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Over the next couple of years, Tony Bennett had minor hits with numerous singles and albums based on show tunes. Then he went on to record "contemporary" rock songs on a request made by Columbia Records' Clive Davis. However, the results satisfied no one; this was illustrated by the failure of the singer’s 1970 album ‘Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today’ to generate any profits.
Taking matters into his own hands, Bennett decided to open his own record company, Improv. This company released a number of albums and songs including ‘Together Again’, ‘The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album’ and ‘What is This Thing Called Love?’
Towards the end of the 1970s, the American artiste had no recording contract. He then got himself booked for shows in colleges and small theaters. By 1986, he was re-signed to Columbia Records and released the album ‘The Art of Excellence’ which became Bennett’s first album to become a hit since 1972.
In the ensuing years, he made appearances on several shows like ‘Late Night with David Letterman’, ‘Late Night with Conan O'Brien’, ‘Muppets Tonight’ and ‘The Simpsons’, to name a few.
In 1993, Bennett did a series of concerts around the country. He continued to record and came out with the hit album ‘Astoria: Portrait of the Artist’, Sinatra homage ‘Perfectly Frank’ and Fred Astaire tribute ‘Steppin' Out’.
In 1994, his appearance on ‘MTV Unplugged’ managed to make the audiences swoon. By the end of the 1990s, he had re-established his reputation and continued to tour and record steadily, doing numerous shows every year.
In addition to several guest performances on TV, Bennett made cameo appearances in movies such as ‘Analyze This,’ ‘The Scout’ and ‘Bruce Almighty.’
In 2006, he released the album ‘Duets: An American Classic’ that reached the top position on the US Jazz Chart. Two years later, Bennett performed his final concerts with the release of the album ‘A Swingin' Christmas’.
In September 2011, he came out with ‘Duets II’ and then collaborated with Amy Winehouse for the single "Body and Soul”. The following year, he released ‘Viva Duets’. Bennett then performed for the very first time in Israel in 2014. A year later, he released the album titled ‘The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern’.
Awards & Achievements
Tony Bennett has won 19 Grammy Awards along with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2001) and two Emmy Awards (1996 and 2007).
He has also won several other recognitions such as National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award and Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, and is a Kennedy Center Honoree.
He has been inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame and Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The American artiste has received honorary doctorates from several institutions, such as the Berklee College of Music, The Art Institute of Boston, the George Washington University and the Juilliard School.