Tony Bennett, the renowned and timeless stylist celebrated for his devotion to classic American songs and ability to create new standards, such as the beloved “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” passed away on Friday at 96, just two weeks short of his birthday.
Publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett’s death in his hometown of New York. While there was no specific cause mentioned, it’s known that Bennett had been battling Alzheimer’s disease since 2016.
Throughout his decades-long career, Tony Bennett stood out as the last of the great saloon singers from the mid-20th century. He often expressed his lifelong ambition to build “a hit catalog rather than hit records.” This dedication to his craft led him to release more than 70 albums, resulting in an impressive 19 competitive Grammy Awards – most of which he earned after reaching his 60s. His immense talent and passion for music earned him deep and lasting admiration from fans and fellow artists.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Bennett didn’t merely perform songs; he allowed the music to speak through him. He effortlessly interpreted pieces from iconic songwriters like the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern. His style diverged from his friend and mentor Frank Sinatra, as he preferred to lend his touch to a song rather than embodying it fully. Despite lacking the high drama of Sinatra’s performances, Bennett’s courtly and easy manner, along with his extraordinarily rich and enduring voice – which he humbly described as “A tenor who sings like a baritone” – made him a master at caressing ballads or adding charm to up-tempo numbers.
When asked about his performances, Bennett told The Associated Press in 2006, “I enjoy entertaining the audience, making them forget their problems. I think people… are touched if they hear something sincere and honest and maybe has a little sense of humor… I like to make people feel good when I perform.”
His talents earned him praise from his peers, with none more meaningful than the accolades bestowed by Frank Sinatra during a 1965 Life magazine interview. Sinatra declared, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who understands what the composer has in mind and probably a little more.”
Bennett’s artistry not only endured the rise of rock music but also attracted new fans and collaborators, some young enough to be his grandchildren. At the impressive age of 88, Bennett broke his record as the oldest living performer to have a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart with “Cheek to Cheek,” his duet project with Lady Gaga in 2014. Three years earlier, he had topped the charts with “Duets II,” featuring contemporary stars such as Gaga, Carrie Underwood, and the late Amy Winehouse, who gave her final studio recording for the album. Their collaboration was showcased in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Amy,” where Bennett patiently supported the young and insecure singer during their performance of “Body and Soul.”
In 2021, Bennett released his final album, “Love for Sale,” featuring duets with Lady Gaga on the title track, “Night and Day,” and other classics from Porter’s repertoire.
Tony Bennett’s death marks the end of an era for American music. His timeless contributions and his ability to bridge generations through his artistry will be cherished and remembered by music enthusiasts worldwide. As we mourn the loss of this legendary singer, we celebrate the lasting impact he has made on the world of music and the hearts of his many fans.