Tony Bennett was singing until the very end. The legendary singer was crooning his first number one hit, “Because of You,” at his piano just days before his death on July 21, according to his Twitter account.
Bennett’s career spanned 60 years, having accomplished the rare feat of number one albums in the ‘50s and ‘60s to as recently as 2014 for “Cheek to Cheek,” the album of duets with Lady Gaga.
Bennett, born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, was the son of Italian immigrants. He was born in a working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York City. He began singing at an early age and later served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, Bennett opened for Bob Hope. When Hope asked what his name was, he let him know.
Hope said the name was a little long and suggested Tony Bennett. Hence, the name Tony Bennett was born.
Bennett was a Kennedy Center Honors awardee in 2005, along with singer Tina Turner (who died earlier this year), actress Julie Harris, teacher Suzanne Farrell and actor Robert Redford. Over the weekend, the Obamas, Clintons and Nancy Pelosi all expressed how much they loved Bennett and his music.
President Obama shared a photo of Bennett on his Twitter account saying: “Michelle and I will always be honored that he performed at my inauguration.”
In addition to his singing, Bennett was a talented painter. He spent years inspired by Central Park in New York City. One of his paintings circa 1998 can be found on the Smithsonian American Art Museum web site.
Central Park carriage drivers left a note on Bennett’s favorite bench over the weekend, along with a bouquet of sunflowers. The note read: “Please, Tony, once around the park again. We can’t believe you’re gone.”
Of course, with a 60+ year career, we all have our Tony Bennett stories. I myself was lucky enough to see him at The Strathmore in May 2017. I grew up listening to Old Standards and knew just how important the concert was. I knew it would be the one and only time I’d get to see the great Tony Bennett live.
Bennett also holds a special place in my heart—his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz was my father-daughter dance at my wedding.
Bennett is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto, and children Danny, Antonia, Dae and Joanna Bennett.
Those interested can see Bennett’s entire music catalog here.