Tony Bennett is an American singer of traditional pop standards, big band, show tunes, and jazz. He is also a painter, having created works under the name Anthony Benedetto that are on permanent public display in several institutions. He is the founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, New York.
Let’s see some facts about him!
1. Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born on August 3, 1926, in Astoria, Queens, New York.
2. His parents were grocer John Benedetto and seamstress Anna Suraci.
3. In 1906, John had emigrated from Podàrgoni, a rural eastern district of the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria.
4. Anna had been born in the U.S. shortly after her parents also emigrated from the Calabria region in 1899.
5. Other relatives came over as well as part of the mass migration of Italians to America.
6. Tony grew up with an older sister, Mary, and an older brother, John Jr.
7. With a father who was ailing and unable to work, the children grew up in poverty.
8. John Sr. instilled in his son a love of art and literature and a compassion for human suffering, but died when Tony was 10 years old.
9. The experience of growing up in the Great Depression and a distaste for the effects of the Hoover Administration would make the child a lifelong Democrat.
10. Young Tony grew up listening to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby as well as jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Venuti.
11. His Uncle Dick was a tap dancer in vaudeville, giving him an early window into show business, and his Uncle Frank was the Queens borough library commissioner.
12. By age 10 he was already singing, and performed at the opening of the Triborough Bridge, standing next to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who patted him on the head.
13. Drawing was another early passion of his, he became known as the class caricaturist at P.S. 141 and anticipated a career in commercial art.
14. He began singing for money at age 13, performing as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants around his native Queens.
15. He attended New York’s School of Industrial Art where he studied painting and music and would later appreciate their emphasis on proper technique. But he dropped out at age 16 to help support his family.
16. He worked as a copy boy and runner for the Associated Press in Manhattan and in several other low-skilled, low-paying jobs.
17. However, he mostly set his sights on a professional singing career, returning to performing as a singing waiter, playing and winning amateur nights all around the city, and having a successful engagement at a Paramus, New Jersey, nightclub.
18. Bennett was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944, during the final stages of World War II.
19. Warned by Miller not to imitate Frank Sinatra (who was just then leaving Columbia), Bennett began his career as a crooner of commercial pop tunes.
20. His first big hit was “Because of You”, a ballad produced by Miller with a lush orchestral arrangement from Percy Faith.
21. On February 12, 1952, Bennett married Ohio art student and jazz fan Patricia Beech, whom he had met the previous year after a nightclub performance in Cleveland.
22. Two thousand female fans dressed in black gathered outside the ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, New York, in mock mourning.
23. The couple had two sons, D’Andrea (Danny, born 1954) and Daegal (Dae, born 1955).
24. A third number-one came in 1953 with “Rags to Riches”. Unlike Bennett’s other early hits, this was an up-tempo big band number with a bold, brassy sound and a double tango in the instrumental break; it topped the charts for eight weeks.
25. “Stranger in Paradise” was also a number-one hit in the United Kingdom a year and a half later and started Bennett’s career as an international artist.
26. For a month in August-September 1956, Bennett hosted a NBC Saturday night television variety show, The Tony Bennett Show, as a summer replacement for The Perry Como Show.
27. In 1954, the guitarist Chuck Wayne became Bennett’s musical director. Bennett released his first long-playing album in 1955, Cloud 7. The album was billed as featuring Wayne and showed Bennett’s leanings towards jazz.
28. In addition to numerous television guest performances, Bennett has had cameo appearances as himself in films such as The Scout, Analyze This, and Bruce Almighty.
29. He had no intention of retiring, saying in reference to masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jack Benny, and Fred Astaire: “right up to the day they died, they were performing. If you are creative, you get busier as you get older.”
30. Bennett continued to record and tour steadily, doing a hundred shows a year by the end of the 1990s. In concert Bennett often makes a point of singing one song (usually “Fly Me to the Moon”) without any microphone or amplification, demonstrating his skills at vocal projection.
31. Bennett has also had success as a painter, done under his real name of Anthony Benedetto or just Benedetto. He followed up his childhood interest with professional training, work, and museum visits throughout his life. He sketches or paints every day, often of views out of hotel windows when he is on tour.
32. Tony Bennett was chosen as the official artist for the 2001 Kentucky Derby, and was commissioned by the United Nations to do two paintings, including one for its 50th anniversary.
33. Regarding his choices in music, Bennett reiterated his artistic stance in a 2010 interview: I’m not staying contemporary for the big record companies, I don’t follow the latest fashions. I never sing a song that’s badly written. In the 1920s and ’30s, there was a renaissance in music that was the equivalent of the artistic Renaissance. Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and others just created the best songs that had ever been written. These are classics, and finally they’re not being treated as light entertainment. This is classical music.
34. Bennett has released over 70 albums during his career, with almost all being for Columbia Records.
35. In the late 1980s, Bennett entered into a long-term romantic relationship with Susan Crow, a former New York City schoolteacher who was 33 years his junior.
36. Bennett and Crow founded Exploring the Arts, a charitable organization dedicated to creating, promoting, and supporting arts education.
38. At the same time they founded (and named after Bennett’s friend) the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, a public high school dedicated to teaching the performing arts, which opened in 2001 and would have a very high graduation rate.
39. On June 21, 2007, Bennett married Crow in a private civil ceremony in New York that was witnessed by former Governor Mario Cuomo.
40. Bennett has won 18 Grammy Awards including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
41. Lady Gaga gave Bennett a giant birthday cake onstage at a recent concert in celebration of his 89th birthday.
42. Bennett has also had success as a painter, done under his real name of Anthony Benedetto or just Benedetto. He followed up his childhood interest with professional training, work, and museum visits throughout his life.
43. He sketches or paints every day, often of views out of hotel windows when he is on tour.
44. He has exhibited his work in numerous galleries around the world.
45. He was chosen as the official artist for the 2001 Kentucky Derby, and was commissioned by the United Nations to do two paintings, including one for its fiftieth anniversary.
46. His painting “Homage to Hockney” (for his friend David Hockney, painted after Hockney drew him) is on permanent display at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
47. His “Boy on Sailboat, Sydney Bay” is in the permanent collection at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park in New York, as is his “Central Park” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
48. His paintings and drawings have been featured in ARTnews and other magazines, and sell for as much as $80,000 apiece. Many of his works were published in the art book Tony Bennett: What My Heart Has Seen in 1996.
49. In 2007, another book involving his paintings, Tony Bennett in the Studio: A Life of Art & Music, became a best-seller among art books.