National treasure, Tony Bennett is a 96 year old music legend who has quite the interesting back story. Born as Antonio Domenick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens in 1926, he comes from humble beginnings. His father and mother were both originally from poor farming families in Calabria, Italy and migrated to the U.S. for better opportunities. In America, his father was a grocer and his mother was a seamstress. In order to help support his parents, Tony performed as a singing waiter in Italian restaurants near where they lived.
Citizen of the World
Tony has made many positive contributions to our history, starting with serving in the U.S. army during World War II. He served on the frontlines and was even involved with the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Landsberg Germany. His impact doesn’t stop there. Tony also marched side by side with Martin Luther King Jr. to support civil rights, performed for eleven U.S. presidents and continues to support humanitarian efforts around the world. His love for America has earned him the reputation as a national treasure. More notably, The United Nations has formally named him as a Citizen of the World, as one of their leading ambassadors.
Bob Hope invited him to perform on his concert tour and actually was the one to suggest he use the stage name of Tony Bennett. By 1950, he was signed to Columbia Records and released his first hit, “Because of You.” The single sold over a million copies, reaching #1 in 1951 pop charts. Bennett’s other #1 hits were “Blue Velvet,” “Rags to Riches” and “Stranger in Paradise” over the next few years. During this time, Tony was performing 5 to 7 shows a day in New York to oversized crowds of people.
Pressures of Fame
Being on the road too much and the other pressures that come along with fame, played a big part in Tony’s divorce from his first wife, Patricia Beech. Around the same time, his first acting role in “The Oscar” tanked. His singing career also went downhill when his producers at Columbia records were afraid of his competition: The Beatles. They were convinced Tony should change his style and image as it was too similar to the notorious music group. After leaving Columbia Records, his luck was starting to look up as he released two successful albums under his own label with Bill Evans. Unfortunately this was short lived, as his debts grew to the point of bankruptcy, his second marriage was failing and he developed a drug addiction. After his scary overdose in 1979, he called one of his sons, Danny, for help and thankfully it was the best decision he could have made in turning his life around.
The Great Comeback
His son Danny saved Tony’s life in more ways than one by also becoming his trusted manager. With his new management, Tony brought back his original style, tuxedo and the Great American Songbook. His strong comeback was well received during the 1990s, as he ended up signing with Columbia again on his terms, and made two gold albums in 1992 and 1993. Bennet also cultivated a surprising and loyal following among adults in their 20s and 30s. He received a Grammy Award, the first since 1962 and again began performing and recording with good friend Frank Sinatra. His acting career was also revived in the following well-known movies, Analyze This, Bruce Almighty and The Scout.
Today, Tony Bennett continues to inspire millions with his distinct voice and has even announced a second collaborative album with Lady Gaga. At 96 years old, amid battling Alzheimer’s disease, he still finds a way to reflect and say, “What a Good Life.”