ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Tony Bennett, masterful stylist of American musical standards, dies at 96

Jul 21, 2023, 6:43 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Tony Bennett, the eminent and timeless stylist whose devotion to classic American...

Tony Bennett holds his Grammy which he won in the category Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance for his album "MTV Unplugged" backstage at the 37th annual Grammy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles Wednesday, March 1, 1995. (AP Photo/Mark Terrill) (Submission date: 09/17/2002)

(Submission date: 09/17/2002)

NEW YORK (AP) — Tony Bennett, the eminent and timeless stylist whose devotion to classic American songs and knack for creating new standards such as “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” graced a decadeslong career that brought him admirers from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, died Friday. He was 96, just two weeks short of his birthday.

Publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett’s death to The Associated Press, saying he died in his hometown of New York. There was no specific cause, but Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

The last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century, Bennett often said his lifelong ambition was to create “a hit catalog rather than hit records.” He released more than 70 albums, bringing him 19 competitive Grammys — all but two after he reached his 60s — and enjoyed deep and lasting affection from fans and fellow artists.

Bennett didn’t tell his own story when performing; he let the music speak instead — the Gershwins and Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. Unlike his friend and mentor Sinatra, he would interpret a song rather than embody it. If his singing and public life lacked the high drama of Sinatra’s, Bennett appealed with an easy, courtly manner and an uncommonly rich and durable voice — “A tenor who sings like a baritone,” he called himself — that made him a master of caressing a ballad or brightening an up-tempo number.

“I enjoy entertaining the audience, making them forget their problems,” he told The Associated Press in 2006. “I think people … are touched if they hear something that’s sincere and honest and maybe has a little sense of humor. … I just like to make people feel good when I perform.”

Bennett was praised often by his peers, but never more meaningfully than by what Sinatra said in a 1965 Life magazine interview: “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.”

He not only survived the rise of rock music but endured so long and so well that he gained new fans and collaborators, some young enough to be his grandchildren. In 2014, at age 88, Bennett broke his own record as the oldest living performer with a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart for “Cheek to Cheek,” his duets project with Lady Gaga. Three years earlier, he topped the charts with “Duets II,” featuring such contemporary stars as Gaga, Carrie Underwood and Amy Winehouse, in her last studio recording. His rapport with Winehouse was captured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Amy,” which showed Bennett patiently encouraging the insecure young singer through a performance of “Body and Soul.”

His final album, the 2021 release “Love for Sale,” featured duets with Lady Gaga on the title track, “Night and Day” and other Porter songs.

For Bennett, one of the few performers to move easily between pop and jazz, such collaborations were part of his crusade to expose new audiences to what he called the Great American Songbook.

“No country has given the world such great music,” Bennett said in a 2015 interview with Downbeat Magazine. “Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern. Those songs will never die.”

Ironically, his most famous contribution came through two unknowns, George Cory and Douglass Cross, who in the early ’60s provided Bennett with his signature song at a time his career was in a lull. They gave Bennett’s musical director, pianist Ralph Sharon, some sheet music that he stuck in a dresser drawer and forgot about until he was packing for a tour that included a stop in San Francisco.

“Ralph saw some sheet music in his shirt drawer … and on top of the pile was a song called ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco.’ Ralph thought it would be good material for San Francisco,” Bennett said. “We were rehearsing and the bartender in the club in Little Rock, Arkansas, said, ‘If you record that song, I’m going to be the first to buy it.’”

Released in 1962 as the B-side of the single “Once Upon a Time,” the reflective ballad became a grassroots phenomenon staying on the charts for more than two years and earning Bennett his first two Grammys, including record of the year.

By his early 40s, he was seemingly out of fashion. But after turning 60, an age when even the most popular artists often settle for just pleasing their older fans, Bennett and his son and manager, Danny, found creative ways to market the singer to the MTV Generation. He made guest appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” and became a celebrity guest artist on “The Simpsons.” He wore a black T-shirt and sunglasses as a presenter with the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the 1993 MTV Music Video Awards, and his own video of “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” from his Grammy-winning Fred Astaire tribute album ended up on MTV’s hip “Buzz Bin.”

____

AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this story.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

Arraignment for driver, Kent Cody Barlow today...

Heather Peterson, Diana Jones

Arraignment for driver accused of killing two boys in Eagle Mountain on Wednesday

The accused, Kent Cody Barlow, was reportedly driving over 100 mph when he crashed into Cedar Valley Stables.

2 days ago

LA Clippers executive board member Jerry West attends a game between the Orlando Magic and the Hous...

Devin Oldroyd

Inspiration behind NBA logo, Jerry West dies at 86

The inspiration for the NBA's logo and famed former basketball player Jerry West has died. West was 86-years-old. 

2 days ago

A rendering of a proposed "sports, entertainment, culture and convention center" surrounding Delta ...

Carter Williams, ksl.com

Delta Center renovations could begin next year. Here’s what some of Smith’s plans look like

Construction to remodel the Delta Center could begin as early as April 2025, Smith Entertainment Group officials said Tuesday.

2 days ago

The Delta Center is pictured in Salt Lake City....

LINDSAY AERTS

Smith Entertainment Group reveals new details about Salt Lake revitalization plan

In an interview with KSL TV, Smith Entertainment Group revealed more details of their planned revitalization of Downtown Salt Lake City.

3 days ago

The Rasmussen siblings pictured. The season finale of The Letter season 2 explores their wrestle wi...

Amy Donaldson

In Season Finale of The Letter Season 2, families have to decide if they misjudged killer

The season finale of The Letter Season 2 is out now - listen to it and read more behind the episode about the family's reaction.

3 days ago

Chris Jay and and "Army of Freshmen" from Ventura, California play Kilby Court Sunday June 15, 2003...

Josuee Sanchez

Heavy metal isn’t as damaging to the voice as you may think

Heavy Metal singers might sound like they're screaming, but it's not damaging their voices the way a normal scream might.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...

Comcast

Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Tony Bennett, masterful stylist of American musical standards, dies at 96