Tony Bennett (born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, August 3, 1926) is an American singer of popular music, standards, show tunes and jazz. Raised in New York City, Bennett began singing at an early age. He fought in the final stages of World War II as an infantryman with the U.S. Army. Afterwards, he developed his singing technique and signed with Columbia Records,
His first big hit was “Because of You,” which reached #1 in 1951 and stayed there for 10 weeks, selling over a million copies. This was followed by another #1 hit later that year with a similarly-styled rendition of Hank Williams's “Cold, Cold Heart.” A third #1 came in 1953 with “Rags to Riches.”
Later that year the producers of the upcoming Broadway musical “Kismet” had Bennett record “Stranger in Paradise” as a way of promoting the show during a New York newspaper strike. The song reached the top, the show was a hit, and Bennett began a long practice of recording show tunes.
Once the rock and roll era began in 1955, the dynamic of the music industry changed and it became harder and harder for existing pop singers to do well commercially. Nevertheless, Bennett continued to enjoy success, placing eight songs in the Billboard Top 40 during the latter part of the 1950s, with “In the Middle of an Island” reaching the highest at #9 in 1957.
Bennett released his first long-playing album in 1955, “Cloud 7.” The album showed Benett's leanings towards jazz. His 1957 album “The Beat of My Heart” used well-known jazz musicians such as Herbie Mann and Nat Adderley, with a strong emphasis on percussion from the likes of Art Blakey, Jo Jones, Latin star Candido Camero, and Chico Hamilton. The album was both popular and critically praised.
Bennett followed this by working with the Count Basie Orchestra, becoming the first male pop vocalist to sing with Basie's band. The albums “Basie Swings, Bennett Sings” in 1958 and “In Person!” in 1959 were the well-regarded fruits of this collaboration, with “Chicago” being one of the standout songs.
In 1962, Bennett released the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Although this only reached #19 on the Billboard Hot 100, it spent close to a year on various other charts and increased Bennett's exposure. The album of the same title was a Top 5 hit and both the single and album achieved gold record status. The song won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance. Over the years, this would become known as Bennett's signature song.
Bennett's following album, 1963’s “I Wanna Be Around” was also a Top 5 success, with the title track and “The Good Life” each reaching the Top 20 of the pop singles chart along with the Top 10 of the Adult Contemporary chart.
Over the next couple of years Bennett had minor hits with several albums and singles based on show tunes. His last Top 40 single was the #34 “If I Ruled the World” from “Pickwick” in 1965.
A firm believer in the American Civil Rights movement, Bennett participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. Years later he would continue this commitment by refusing to perform in apartheid South Africa.
Bennett was very reluctant to record “contemporary” rock songs, and when he tried, the results pleased no one. This was exemplified by 1970’s “Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!” which featured misguided attempts at Beatles and other current songs.
By 1972, he had departed Columbia for MGM Records, but found no more success there, and in a couple more years he was without a recording contract. Taking matters into his own hands, Bennett started his own record company, Improv. He cut some songs that would later become favorites, such as “What is This Thing Called Love? ,” and made two well-regarded albums with jazz pianist Bill Evans, 1975’s “The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album“ and “Together Again” in 1976, but Improv lacked a distribution arrangement with a major label and by 1977 it was out of business.
As the decade neared its end, Bennett had no recording contract, no manager, and was not performing any concerts outside of Las Vegas. After a near-fatal cocaine overdose in 1979, Bennett called his sons Danny and Dae for help. Danny got his father's expenses under control, moved him back to New York, and began booking him in colleges and small theaters. By 1986, Tony Bennett was re-signed to Columbia Records, this time with creative control, and released “The Art of Excellence.” This became his first album to reach the charts since 1972.
Danny Bennett felt strongly that younger audiences, although completely unfamiliar with Tony Bennett, would respond to his music if only given a chance to see and hear it. Accordingly, Danny began regularly to book his father on a show with a younger, hip audience, “Late Night with David Letterman.” This was subsequently followed by appearances on “Late Night with Conan O'Brien,” “The Simpsons,” and various MTV programs.
In 1993, Bennett played a series of benefit concerts organized by alternative rock radio stations around the country. During this time, Bennett continued to record, first putting out the acclaimed look back 1990’s “Astoria: Portrait of the Artist,” then emphasizing themed albums such as the Sinatra homage “Perfectly Frank” in 1992 and the Fred Astaire tribute “Steppin' Out” in 1993. The latter two both achieved gold status and won Grammys for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.
The new audience reached its height with Bennett's appearance in 1994 on “MTV Unplugged.” The resulting “MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett” album went platinum and, besides taking the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance Grammy award for the third straight year, also won the top Grammy prize of Album of the Year.
A series of albums, often based on themes such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, blues duets, were met with popular reviews and Bennett won seven more Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance or Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album Grammys in the subsequent years, most recently in 2006.
To date, he has won 15 Grammy Awards and has sold over 50 million records worldwide during his career. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street. Bennett was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997, was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. In 2005, Bennett was the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.