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Tony Bennett Loved People

Take it from the man himself: “I love entertaining people; I strive to make them feel good, and they make me feel wonderful.”

April 13, 2024

Examining Tony Bennett’s 70+ years in the spotlight one finds a clear through-line in the beloved crooner’s career. Regardless of the act he engaged in and of the talents he put to use at a given time — singing, painting, performing — what shone through was the man’s deep and enduring love for, and dedication to, his fellow humans.

Take it from the man himself: “I love entertaining people; I strive to make them feel good, and they make me feel wonderful.” Yes, Tony Bennett was a true humanitarian. He made this clear not just with his unrelenting ambition for entertaining and uplifting the masses, but through some very concrete measures whose impact is being felt to this day.

First and foremost in Tony Bennett’s rich legacy of humanitarian efforts is the Exploring The Arts initiative, which he founded with his wife Susan (a former public school teacher) in 1999. The initiative’s stated goal is to strengthen the role of the arts in public high school education, its programs designed to help schools sustain the arts in the face of budget cuts. The initiative’s first major effort was the foundation of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Bennett’s birthplace of Astoria, Queens, a public high school that offers state of the art facilities to help creative students dedicate themselves to the arts.

Then there are the countless time that Bennett lent his time and skills to promote and fundraise for various causes, including Alzheimer’s awareness, veterans’ affairs, humanitarian relief efforts, the American Cancer Society and the civil rights struggle. In fact, he was such a consistently prominent fighter for humanitarian efforts that industry insiders used to jokingly (and lovingly) refer to him as “Tony Benefit”. He marched through Selma alongside Martin Luther King in his 1965 civil rights march, and was honored with the Martin Luther King Salute to Greatness Award and the UN’s Humanitarian Award.

Tony Bennett strived to make people feel good through his music and performances, and he strived to uplift the downtrodden through his actions, public and private. Some have speculated that his time at the frontlines of World War 2, where he participated in liberating the concentration camps, contributed greatly to his pacifists politics and his passion for lending a hand wherever he could. Growing up in a loving community, surrounded by family that consistently upheld values of charity and goodwill surely factors in. In the end, it’s clear that Tony Bennett loved people just as much as they loved him.

A typed letter signed with autograph postscript, one page, on Martin Luther King, Jr. personal stationery, dated April 5, 1965, mounted to a white cardboard backing. Together with original transmittal envelope with printed return address for Martin Luther King, Jr. 332 Auburn Avenue, N. E. Atlanta Georgia, printed on verso. The envelope is addressed to Mr. Tony Bennett at his Englewood, New Jersey home and it is postmarked April 12, 1965 from Atlanta, Georgia.

The letter is addressed to "Mr. Bennett" and reads, "The march from Selma to Montgomery was 50 miles. It was a long walk, but it is a symbol that those who have suffered deprivation and brutality can make their voices heard and that freedom will one day be not a cry in the dark, but a living, breathing proclamation that we have overcome, and that a whole nation has turned to a new course.

My good friend, Harry Belafonte, told me of the difficulty you had in rearranging your schedule so that you could perform at the rally.

I speak for myself and for the courageous 300 marchers and all the other people who came to St. Jude's to be spurred on to those final miles to the capitol in Montgomery. Your talent and good will were not only heard by those thousands of ears, but were felt in those thousands of hearts, and I give my deepest thanks and appreciation to you.

With warmest good wishes, Martin."

Autograph postscript in blue ink reads, "P.S. It was really good seeing you / in Montgomery! S.C.L.C. could / not make it without friends like you / and neither could I. I hope / our paths will cross again soon."

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

TONY BENNETT

A LIFE WELL-LIVED

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