Tony Bennett, America’s last great singer, dies at 96

Tony Bennett, the last of the great American singers who was admired for his warm-hearted personality and his consistency for more than seven decades, died Friday at the age of 96, we learned from his agent.

“He died today in his hometown of New York at the age of 96,” his agent Sylvia Weiner told AFP. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which was diagnosed in 2016.

Singer of another era, singer of singers such as Frank Sinatra, he marked the history of American popular music with his unparalleled longevity, experienced a return to popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, then distinguished himself again with his duets with Amy Winehouse and especially Lady Gaga, with whom he recorded two albums in 2014 and 2021.

The first of these two duets, “Cheek to Cheek”, made Bennett the oldest artist with a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, the benchmark ranking in the United States.

-Bel Canto-

Tony Bennett at the launch of a new album with pianist and jazz singer Diana Krall at the Rainbow Room in New York on September 12, 2018 (Getty Images North America/AFP/Archive – Mike Coppola)

Born Anthony Benedetto, his real name, on August 3, 1926, in Astoria, New York’s most metropolitan district, during the Great Depression, part of his musical longevity is due to his vocal technique.

Trained in bel canto, what she called herself Bari at the start of her career, she retained her voice for the rest of her life, even at the age of 80, capable of pushing decibels in stadiums.

Always impeccable costuming, cover, natural elegance, Tony Bennett embodied the post-war song without falling into the old fashioned way, and without ever leaving its register.

Few of his classics survive, in contrast to Frank Sinatra, another son of Italian immigrants from the New York area, to whom he has been heavily compared, but who had far better success.

– According to Sinatra, “The Best” –

Tony Bennett, who adopted an Americanized stage name suggested by comedian Bob Hope, has maintained a loyal following through thousands of concerts and an all-recognized stage presence.

Singer Tony Bennett performs to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in New York May 28, 2009 (Getty Images North America/AFP/Archive - Stephen Lovekin)
Singer Tony Bennett performs to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in New York May 28, 2009 (Getty Images North America/AFP/Archive – Stephen Lovekin)

In the Clint Eastwood-produced documentary “The Music Never Ends” (2007), actor Alec Baldwin explained, “In theater and for live performances, you have to convince the audience that they can’t get better somewhere else.” “And there’s nobody better in show business than Bennett.”

With little focus on influences, their sound seemed to get straight to the point, being influenced by various musical styles, especially jazz.

“As an audience, (I think) Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business”, Frank Sinatra would say. “When I see him he excites me, he moves me”.

His smile and his energy portrayed a warm, determinedly positive artist.

– “Never Can Be Predicted” –

Despite a loyal public, Tony Bennett would experience desert crossings during the 70s and 80s, a bad phase beginning in 1979 with cocaine addiction and overdoses that he would survive.

His son Danny would eventually intervene and offer him a second career, introducing him to younger audiences.

In 1994, he landed on the MTV music channel for “Unplugged”, a series of acoustic concerts reserved for up-and-coming young artists.

Tony Bennett duets with Lady Gaga at the 57th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 8, 2015 (AFP/ARCHIVE - Robin Beck)
Tony Bennett duets with Lady Gaga at the 57th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on February 8, 2015 (AFP/ARCHIVE – Robin Beck)

In 2006, she released the album “Duets: An American Classic”, a series of duets with huge names in popular music, from Stevie Wonder to Bono, who accompanied her on the cover.

The success is overall to such an extent that in 2011 the second opus “Duets II” will be released, once again featuring the song’s tunes, allowing them to peak record sales in the United States for the first time at the age of 85.

The album includes his first duets with Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse.

“I like to try new things all the time,” the singer told journalist Charlie Rose on PBS in 1993. For seven decades, he may have followed Frank Sinatra’s advice: “Never forecast”.

Despite the illness, Bennett had continued to perform and record. His last appearance was in August 2021 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in a duet with Lady Gaga and two concerts titled “One Last Time”.

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