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 was 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 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

On Feb. 1, 2021, Bennett revealed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease four years earlier. The singing legend and his wife, Susan, shared the heartbreaking newsin an interview with AARP.

One week after celebrating his 95th birthday with two concerts with Lady Gaga at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, singer Tony Bennett canceled the rest of his brief 2021 tour.

Bennett’s son and manager, Danny Bennett, told Variety that his father has retired from the stage. “There won’t be any additional concerts,” he said. “This was a hard decision for us to make, as he is a capable performer. This is, however, doctors’ orders. His continued health is the most important part of this, and when we heard the doctors — when Tony’s wife, Susan heard them — she said, ‘Absolutely not.’ He’ll be doing other things, but not those upcoming shows. It’s not the singing aspect but, rather, the traveling. Look, he gets tired. The decision is being made that doing concerts now is just too much for him. We don’t want him to fall on stage, for instance — something as simple as that.”

Bennett and Lady Gaga released a new album, Love For Sale, in October 2021. The first clip, “I Get a Kick Out of You,” was released on Bennett’s 95th birthday.

Tony Bennett, born Aug. 3, 1926, long maintained 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 his birthday!

On Aug. 3, 2023, Bennett’s first posthumous birthday, Elvis Costello finally posted a tribute along with a great photo of the pair taken in New York’s Central Park. He explained why, “I have been at a rare loss for words since the passing of Tony Bennett, still amazed that I had ever met him, much less that I got to spend time with him, talking about music, art or family, let alone record or share the stage with him or that I would be granted such privileged proximity to witness his more substantial collaborations with my wife, Diana Krall.”

Related: Tony Bennett, last of a generation of crooners, is mourned

Best Classic Bands Staff

3 Comments so far

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  1. Baybluesman
    #1 Baybluesman 3 August, 2022, 15:37

    Class act – One of the last great ones left from the post-World War/mid-century popular crooners.

    Thank goodness we, collectively, have been able to enjoys Mr. Bennett’s voice and song interpretations for close to seventy+ years.

    My Mother also has Alzheimer’s, so watching the interview with Mr. Bennett and his wife, aired last August, was painful, while at the same time, humanly uplifting, after watching the Radio City Music Hall final public audience performance – What a great send-off for the fans, Mr. Bennett, as well as his immediate family.

    Wishing Mr. Bennett a happy 96th birthday, and hopefully,many more – keep singing, it will comfort you more than anything else.

    Reply this comment
  2. Batchman
    #2 Batchman 3 August, 2023, 19:37

    Your article makes it sound like Tony Bennett always willingly kept up with current music like the Beatles. The Times obit tells a different story:

    “In 1969, he succumbed to the pressure of the new president of Columbia Records, Clive Davis, to record his versions of contemporary songs, and the result, “Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!” — including the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and “Something” — was a musical calamity, a record that Mr. Bennett would later tell an interviewer made him vomit.”

    Reply this comment
    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky 4 August, 2023, 09:23

      Batchman, I think it’s fair to say he adapted and ultimately recognized that popular music was evolving.

      Reply this comment

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