Legendary crooner and pop icon Tony Bennett has died at the age of 96. His publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed that Bennett died in his hometown of New York City. Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, but no cause of death has been determined.
Despite the Alzheimers diagnosis, Bennett performed his last concert in 2021 with collaborator and friend Lady Gaga. The broadcast received rave reviews. At an age and with a disease that renders most people homebound, Bennett pulled off the show without a hitch.
Tony Bennett served in World War 2 and spoke about the atrocities he saw while fighting Hitler in Europe. He said it was a: “terrifying, demoralizing experience” and that he “saw things no human being should ever have to see.”
After finishing his service, he signed with Columbia Records in 1951 and scored his first number-one hit a year later with the song “Because of You.” It was the classic age of the American crooner, with contemporaries like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin topping the charts.
As the 50s turned into the 60s, Bennett scored his signature hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” in 1962. However, American popular music wasn’t prepared for what was brewing across the pond, as the Beatles and rock and roll were taking England by storm.
Many of the old-guard crooners found themselves on the outside looking in as American musical taste went away from the love song-inspired crooner to the mop-top sounds of the British invasion. Bennett’s label attempted to update his sound, but his popularity waned.
Bennett’s label dropped him in 1971, and with the unrest of the 1970s and the ever-changing musical tastes of a nation in turmoil, it appeared Bennett was done as a viable artist. However, as musical tastes always do, the 1980s brought Tony Bennett back into fashion, where he stayed for the rest of his career.
In 1986 Bennett released “The Art of Excellence,” reestablishing the crooner as commercially accessible and even cool again. The early 1990s and a new show on MTV called “Unplugged” rocketed the aging superstar back into the spotlight. Bennett released an album from his ‘Unplugged” appearance, and suddenly a new demographic of fans was born.
Never one to rest on his laurels and with no intention of fading away, Tony Bennett began collaborating with a young, up-and-coming pop star named Lady Gaga in 2014. The duo released an album of duets called “Cheek to Cheek,” and his old-school sound mixed with Gaga’s current popularity was a huge success.
Bennett and Gaga remained close friends and collaborators until his death. Bennett’s career was littered with accolades and awards, including 20 Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards. He was also named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tony Bennett leaves behind several adult children. His contribution to popular music through the years and his ability to stay relevant while never changing his music style or who he was will stand as an example and an inspiration to music fans forever. His legacy will live on in his music.
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