@ the Royal Albert Hall
1 July 2012
Click an image to enlarge.
Tony Bennett is one of the most successful legendary
jazz and popular musicians of our time, with a thriving career spanning
over half a century.
He was born Antonio Dominick Benedetto on August
3, 1926 in Queens, New York. When he was only nine, Bennett lost
his father. He was raised by his mother, a seamstress, and his uncle,
a tap dancer. Bennett took an early interest in the arts, and began
to attend the New York High School of Industrial Arts, where he
spent the majority of his childhood studying music and painting.
When Bennett was 16, the depression took hold and he was forced
to drop out of school in order to support his struggling family
as a singing waiter in Italian restaurants.
In 1944, Bennett was drafted into the US Army where
he served on the front lines as an infantry rifleman. Following
the end of World War II he sang with the military band under the
stage name “Joe Bari.” In 1946 he returned to America,
where he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and studied singing and
acting at the American Theatre Wing. It was here that he began imitating
the sounds of instruments in his singing, a skill that would provide
him with his own unique style; and where he learned the
‘bel canto’ singing discipline that would keep his voice
in perfect shape for the entirety of his career.
Tony Bennett was awarded his first big break in
1949 when he was asked to open for Pearl Bailey. Bob Hope was in
the audience and immediately recognised Bennett’s talent,
deciding to take him on the road under the more simplified name
“Tony Bennett.” By 1950 Bennett was signed to Columbia
Records and working with record producer Mitch Miller.
In 1951, Bennett first hit, “Because of You,”
sold over 1 million copies and held the top spot on the radio charts
for ten weeks. Over the next 3 years Bennett put out 3 more #1 hits;
“Blue Velvet,” “Rags to Riches,” and “Stranger
On February 12, 1952 Bennett married Patricia Beech,
an Ohio art student and avid jazz fan. The day of the wedding, two
thousand female fans dressed in black and gathered outside of New
York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in mock mourning. Two
years later the happy couple gave birth to their first son D’Andrea,
and the following year they had their second son Daegal.
In 1956 Bennett broadened his horizons and ventured
into the television industry with his hosting position on ‘The
Tony Bennett Show.’ In June of 1962 he held a legendary concert
at Carnegie Hall in which 44 of his most notable songs were featured.
Later that same year, he released “I Left My Heart in San
Francisco,” a ballad that would eventually become his signature
song. The song won Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best
Male Solo Vocal Performance.
1965 brought with it a turn of events. With the
pressures of life on the road, his marriage became strained and
he and his wife divorced. In 1966 Bennett’s first film role
in ‘The Oscar’ debuted to poor reviews and uninterested
audiences. Eventually the turmoil touched his singing career and
artistic differences between Bennett and Columbia Records began
to emerge. After 20 years of recording, Bennett left Columbia Records
in 1972 for a short stint with his own label and others, before
taking a long hiatus from recording entirely.
Bennett’s problems resulted in a drug habit,
coupled with spiralling debts which led to bankruptcy and eventually
the IRS attempting to seize his Los Angeles home. His second marriage
was also troubled. In 1979 a near-fatal drug overdose finally provided
Bennett the perspective he needed to seek out help. He sought out
his son Danny, who signed on as his father’s manager and eventually
helped to turn his career back around.
Bennett made a remarkable comeback in the late
1980’s and 1990’s, appearing on late-night television
shows such as David Letterman and Jay Leno. He lent his voice to
the animated television series The Simpsons, and made a guest appearance
on MTV Unplugged. His apparent effort to widen his fan base helped
out his career tremendously. He now has a recording contract with
his old label, Columbia, in which he has complete creative freedom.
In 1996 he published Tony Bennett: What My Heart Has Seen, a collection
of his paintings, and then in 1998 he put out his autobiography
titled The Good Life.
Tony Bennett has sold over 50 million records worldwide,
is a published author, and a successful painter. He has been inducted
into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, and in 2002 received a
lifetime achievement award from ASCAP. He has won fifteen Grammy
Awards, two Emmy Awards, and the National Endowment for the Arts
Jazz Masters Award. Tony Bennett remains a popular recording artist
today. In June of 2009 Bennett announced he would begin a new tour,
bringing the classics and new favourites to over thirty cities.