A born and bred New Yorker, Bennett embodied the city at its best, reveling in all it had to offer, forever feeding off its raw energy and returning it manifold at every chance.

April 8, 2024

“I love entertaining people; I strive to make them feel good, and they make me feel wonderful. To explain it simply, I like what I do, and my ambition is to get better as I get older. That's really what I'm all about.” -Tony Bennett

it is a portrait of a man with gray hair and a smile on his face .
it is a painting of a man playing a saxophone .
a black and white drawing of a woman playing a piano .

1. Duets Album Cover Portrait by Ian Wright, 2. Original "Charlie Parker" Watercolor Painting by Tony Bennett, 3. Original Barbara Carroll Bemelmans Bar Sketch by Tony Bennett,

At age 96, Tony Bennett bid his final farewells last summer. The universally beloved crooner, who touched the lives of millions through his seven-decade spanning career, leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Singing his way to the top of the charts and into the public’s hearts, Bennett released over 70 albums through his career, selling over 60 million copies. He performed all over the world, filling its most storied concert halls with his uniquely powerful voice, always with the utmost care, dedication and unbridled love for the audience. 

A born and bred New Yorker, Bennett embodied the city at its best, reveling in all it had to offer, forever feeding off its raw energy and returning it manifold at every chance. Tony Bennett was a quintessential New Yorker, and his story is a quintessential New York Story, the kid from Queens who made a go of it in Manhattan and truly made it there, before going on to make it everywhere. 

Singing Waiter

Born in 1926 to Italian immigrant parents, Anthony Dominick Benedetto was the first of his family to be born in a hospital. Growing up in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, Bennett had a loving childhood along with his two older siblings. His father — who would sing Italian folk songs to the children, cited by Bennett as an early inspiration for his love of music — passed when he was ten, but luckily the family had many loving relatives in the neighborhood, who supported them and proved Tony’s first fans, filling the young boy with hope and optimism. 

Young Tony displayed a proficiency for singing and painting from an early age, skills that were fostered and encouraged at home and in school. At age ten, his music teacher arranged for him to sing a the opening of the Triborough Bridge (now the RFK) alongside New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, his first performance of note. He started working as a singing waiter at age thirteen and kept at it, supporting his family with the income, until enlisting in the army to go fight in the European theater in the final stages of World War Two. 

Deeply affected by his time in the war — Bennett was in the groups that liberated the concentration camps at the war’s end — he became a lifelong pacifist upon his return, dedicating himself to humanitarian efforts whenever he could. The G.I. Bill enabled him to do vocal studies at the American Theater Wing school, his career as a singer taking off as a result. 

“We’ll call you Tony Bennett” 

He first performed in a nightclub in 1946, but it was in 1949 that his big break came, when comedian Bob Hope chanced upon him singing with Pearl Bailey in a Greenwich Village club. Hope knew talent when he saw it, and swiftly enlisted the singer to come perform with him at the Paramount Theater. “But first he told me he didn’t care for my stage name [Joe Bari],” Bennett later recounted, “and asked me what my real name was. I told him, ‘My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto,’ and he said, ‘We’ll call you Tony Bennett.’ And that’s how it happened. A new Americanized name—the start of a wonderful career and a glorious adventure that has continued for over 60 years.” 

Signing to Columbia Records in 1950, Bennett scored his first number one hit a year later with ‘Because of You’. His profile only rose from thereon, the following years saw him scoring a number of hits and expanding his audience with TV appearances and steady touring. His biggest hit came in 1962, ironically enough for the lifelong New Yorker, it was a rendition of ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’, which he made his own and became a trademark track. 

“The best singer in the business” 

Known for his melodic clarity, jazz influenced phrasing and deceptively simple interpretations of classic songs, Bennett through his career developed an unusual approach to vocals that involved imitating the style and phrasing of other musicians’ instruments as he sang, allowing him to improvise as he delivered his unique interpretations of the American Songbook. There was no one quite like him, a fact that was recognized by his peers. 

As friend and avid supporter Frank Sinatra phrased it: "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 gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more.”

These talents along with an incredible dedication to his craft and to his audience kept Tony Bennett in high demand through his life. He is one of few artists to have charted new records in every decade of his career—even after a bleak period in in the 1970s that saw him sans contract and in dire financial straits, he managed to bounce right back (with the help of his sons) and become bigger than ever in his twilight years. His final performance, with Lady Gaga, was at Radio City Music Hall in 2021. 

Tony Benefit

Always theartist, Tony Bennett never gave up on his other lifelong passion, painting. He studied and practiced the art throughout his life, and would regularly cross the street from his Central Park adjacent home to capture the vistas of his beloved city. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries all over the world and fetches a high price whenever it comes up for sale. 

Throughout his life, Bennett dedicated much of his time and energy to humanitarian causes and pressing concerns of the day, for instance marching in Selma with Martin Luther King. His eagerness to support good causes with whatever means at his disposal even gained the nickname Tony Benefit. 

Grateful for his charmed existence, he was eager to give something back. As he put it when discussing the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, which he founded along with his wife Susan Benedetto, in partnership with the NYC Department of Education in 2001: “You’ve got to do that. I mean look, what a dream. I started out during the depression in a little blue collar town called Astoria, which is right outside of New York City and all the workers of the city, everybody, the teachers, secretaries, stage hands, they all live in Astoria.”

The public high school offers state of the art facilities to help creative students dedicate themselves to the arts. The couple also founded the ETA (Exploring The Arts) initiative to strengthen the role of the arts in public high school education.

Upon Bennett’s passing, former Paris Review Senior Editor and author David Evanier, who published “All The Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett” in 2011, remarked: “He has the voice of the New York streets. It’s a gravel voice, it’s a voice that you recognize as your neighbor’s voice. There’s no one like him.”

There really wasn’t. 

a black and white photo of a man with his hand on his chin



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