Happy 90th Birthday to Tony Bennett

by VVN Music

A huge happy 90th birthday to a true musical icon, Tony Bennett.

In a 65 year recording career, Tony has accumulated some extremely impressive awards and stats:
  • 19 Grammy Awards
  • Two Emmy Awards
  • Member of the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame (1997)
  • Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award (2000)
  • ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award (2002)
  • Kennedy Center Honoree (2005)
  • National Endowment for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award (2006)
  • Inductee of the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame (2007)
  • Founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens
  • Released 57 studio albums
  • Released 81 singles of which 51 made the Billboard Hot 100 including three number 1s
All that by a man who was signed to Columbia Records by Mitch Miller to just be another in their long line of crooners.

Bennett was born Anthony Benedetto in Astoria, Queens and, by the age of 10, was already a singer, performing at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. Along with music, he dreamed of being an artist, studying both vocations at the School of Industrial Arts. 

In 1944, Tony was drafted into the Army where he saw action deep into Germany and remained after the end of the war to help in the rebuilding. During his later time in the service, he also performed in Army bands singing the standards of the day. 

Post-service, Bennett studied at the American Theatre Wing where he learned the bel canto singing discipline which, to this day, he credits with his still being able to perform well in his later years. In 1949, Pearl Bailey saw him perform and asked Tony to open for her at a show where Bob Hope was in attendance. Hope took Bennett on the road with him and suggested he change his last name to Bennett.

In 1951, Bennett was signed to Columbia by Miller, the label for which he still records today. Miller produced his first recordings, steering him towards ballads and, with his first single for the label, Bennett hit number 1 with Because of You. In just his first three years, he went on to top the chart two more times with Cold, Cold Heart and Rags to Riches and go to number 2 with Stranger in Paradise.

Along with recording and touring, Bennett also hosted his own NBC summer show in 1956 but musical times were changing. The pop music of the 40's and early-50's was slowly being replaced with a new type of crooner, rhythm and blues groups and out and out rockers. Not to be left behind, Bennett began leaning more and more to jazz music, leaving his stylized pop behind. He recorded his first LP, Cloud 9, in 1955 and, two years later, released The Beat of My Heart with help from the likes of Herbie Mann, Nat Adderley, Art Blakey and Chico Hamilton. 

Over the next eight years, Bennett released ten albums with artists like Count Basie, but it was his 1962 single I Left My Heart in San Francisco and the album of the same name that returned him to popularity with the public as a whole. The single went to number 19 on the Hot 100 and 7 on the Adult Contemporary chart, becaming a staple of pop radio.  The album was only the second of Bennett's career to make the Billboard Albums chart, going to number 5. 

Tony's new found popularity led to a number of other popular singles, including I Wanna Be Around (1963 / #14 Pop / #5 AC), The Good Life (1963 / #18 Pop / #7 AC), Who Can I Turn To (1964 / #33 Pop / #3 AC), If I Ruled the World (1965 / #34 Pop / #8 AC) and A Time For Love (1965 / #3 AC). 

In the singles market, it was his last his last string of hits but, what he wasn't selling in singles, he was making up for in albums which were almost constantly on the charts through the early 70's. In reaction to being forced to sing contemporary music by Clive Davis, Tony left Columbia to record for Verve and his own company, Improv. Concentrating more, once again, on jazz, his albums were not major successes outside of that genre. He also had drug and tax problems that came to a head in 1979 when he suffered a nearly fatal cocaine overdose. 

Through the 80's, Bennett fought his way back with the help of his son/manager Danny Bennett, playing small clubs and leading up to his 1986 comeback record and first on a new contract with Columbia, The Art of Excellence. It was also Danny's brilliance that Tony's audience of younger fans began to grow through his bookings on programs popular with those viewers and doing benefit concerts for alternative rock stations. 

All of a sudden, Tony Bennett was cool again as seen in 1994 with his MTV Unplugged special where he performed with k.d. lang and Elvis Costello. The album of the show went on to win the 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year. 

In the 2000's, Bennett's career has possibly hit its most popular point ever. In 2001, his Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues became his first album since 1966 to make the top fifty and he followed the next year with A Wonderful World with k.d. lang. 

Then, in 2006, it all really took off. His first Duets album with artists like the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Sting and Bono went to number 3, the highest chart position of his career. Five years later, he released Duets II which became Bennett's first number 1 album ever, sixty years after releasing his first record. Since then, he has done a Spanish artist version of Duets, called Viva Duets (2012 / #5) and followed with his second chart topper, teaming with Lady Gaga on Cheek to Cheek

How much longer Tony can go is not known but he has made it very clear that he has no intention of retiring. 

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