Happy Birthday Tony Bennett!

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The legend via his Facebook page

The legend via his Facebook page

When Billy Joel performed one of his monthly concerts at Madison Square Garden on July 20, 2016, he brought out a very special guest whose very presence in the room elicited wild cheers and a standing ovation: the iconic singer Tony Bennett. They performed a duet on Joel’s “New York State of Mind”—now every bit the standard as all of those Great American Songbook chestnuts Bennett has sung his entire career—and the love and appreciation between them was palpable.

Bennett’s voice is as strong and emotive as ever and Joel was obviously thrilled to be sharing the stage with him.

What many in the crowd probably did not know was that Billy’s guest was just weeks away from turning 90, a landmark he celebrated on August 3, 2016. They might also have been unaware that the mutual admiration between Joel and Bennett goes back a long way. In fact, they sang that very song together on the 2002 Grammy Awards presentation.

After an introduction by an impossibly young-looking Jon Stewart, the two men, with 23 years separating them, launch into the tune, trading lines throughout. The singers, decked out in black tie and backed up by a small jazz combo, are having a grand old time and, to no surprise, they earn enthusiastic applause from the assembled (and sometimes rather jaded) music industry crowd as they hug following the song’s conclusion.

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For Tony Bennett, who logged his first hits in the early ’50s, before there even was rock ’n’ roll, collaborating with rock musicians and interpreting classic rock songs is nothing new. On his 1970 album Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!, Bennett included no less than three Beatles songs, and he’s always kept up with current artists and trends. On his 2006 album Duets: An American Classic, Bennett sang along with the likes of Elvis Costello, Bono, Elton John, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Sting, John Legend and Paul McCartney, as well as Mr. Joel himself. When he followed that album with a second volume five years later, his singing partners included John Mayer, Aretha Franklin, Sheryl Crow, Lady Gaga (they later did a successful album and tour together) and Amy Winehouse, who passed away that same year. In the recent documentary film Amy, Bennett is seen on film expressing his admiration for the late singer.

Watch Bennett and Joel performing the song in 2008 at the closing concert of Shea Stadium

At 94, on Aug. 3, 2020, Tony Bennett maintains an open-mindedness and desire to continue growing that any upcoming artist would be wise to emulate. Best Classic Bands salutes a true American cultural giant on this momentous occasion!

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