Tony Bennett Biography
Tony Bennett (born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926) is an American popular music, standards, and jazz singer who is widely considered to be one of the best interpretative singers in these genres.
After having achieved artistic and commercial success in the 1950s and early 1960s, his career suffered an extended downturn during the height of the rock music era. However, Bennett staged a remarkable comeback in the late 1980s and 1990s, expanding his audience to a younger generation while keeping his musical style intact. He remains a popular and critically praised recording artist and concert performer in the 2000s.
Tony Bennett is also a serious and accomplished painter.
Anthony Benedetto was born in Astoria, Queens in New York City. His father was a grocer and his mother a seamstress.
He grew up listening to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, and jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Joe Venuti. An uncle was a tap dancer in vaudeville, giving him an early window into show business.
By age 10 the young Benedetto was already singing, performing at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. He attended New York's High School of Industrial Art where he studied music and painting (an interest he would always return to as an adult), but dropped out at age 16 to help support his family. He then set his sights on a professional singing career, performing as a singing waiter in several Queens Italian restaurants.
Warned by Miller not to imitate Frank Sinatra (who was just then leaving Columbia), Bennett began his career as a crooner singing commercial pop tunes. His first big hit was "Because of You", a ballad produced by Miller with a lush orchestral arrangement from Percy Faith. It started out gaining popularity on jukeboxes, then reached #1 on the pop charts in 1951 and stayed there for 10 weeks, selling over a million copies. This was followed to the top later that year by a similarly-styled rendition of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart", which helped introduce Williams and country music in general to a wider, more national audience. The Miller and Faith tandem continued to work on all of Bennett's early hits. Bennett's recording of "Blue Velvet" was also very popular and attracted screaming teenage fans at concerts in the famed Paramount Theatre in New York (Bennett did 7 shows a day, starting at 10:30 a.m.) and elsewhere.
Sharon and Bennett parted ways in 1965. There was great pressure on singers such as Lena Horne and Barbra Streisand to record "contemporary" rock songs, and in this vein Columbia Records' Clive Davis suggested that Bennett do the same. Bennett was very reluctant, and when he tried, the results pleased no one. This was exemplified by Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today! (1969), which featured misguided attempts at Beatles and other current songs and a ludicrous psychedelic cover. 
Years later Bennett would recall his dismay at being asked to do contemporary material, comparing it to when his mother was forced to produce a cheap dress. By 1972 he had departed Columbia for MGM Records, but found no more success there, and in a couple more years he was without a recording contract.
Bennett and his wife Patricia had been separated since 1965, their marriage a victim of too much time on the road, among other factors. In 1971 their divorce became official. Bennett had been involved with aspiring actress Sandra Grant since filming The Oscar, and in 1972 they married. They would have two daughters, Joanna and Antonia Bennett.
Hoping to take matters into his own hand, Bennett started his own record company, Improv. He cut some songs that would later become favorites, such as "What is This Thing Called Love?", and made two well-regarded albums with jazz pianist Bill Evans, The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975) and Together Again (1976), but by 1977 Improv was out of business. A stint of living in England, like other American jazz expatriates, did not change his fortunes.
As the decade neared its end, Bennett had no recording contract, no manager, and was not performing any concerts outside of Las Vegas. His second marriage was failing (they would divorce in 1980). He had (like many musicians) developed a drug addiction, was living beyond his means, and had the Internal Revenue Service trying to seize his Los Angeles home. He had hit bottom.
After a near-fatal cocaine overdose in 1979, Bennett called his sons Danny and Dae for help. "Look, I'm lost here," he told them. "It seems like people don't want to hear the music I make."
Danny Bennett, an aspiring musician himself, also came to a realization. The band Danny and his brother had started, Quacky Duck and His Barnyard Friends, had foundered and Danny's musical abilities were limited. However he had discovered during this time, that he did have a head for business. His father, on the other hand, had tremendous musical talent but was having trouble sustaining a career from it. Danny signed on as his father's manager.
Danny got his father's expenses under control, moved him back to New York, and began booking him in colleges and small theatres to get him away from a "Vegas" image. Tony Bennett had also reunited with Ralph Sharon as his pianist and musical director. By 1986, Tony Bennett was re-signed to Columbia Records, this time with creative control, and released The Art of Excellence. This became his first album to reach the charts since 1972.
By the mid-1980s, the excesses of the disco, punk rock, and new wave eras had given many artists and listeners a greater appreciation for the classic American song. Rock stars such as Linda Ronstadt began recording albums of standards, and such songs began showing up more frequently in movie soundtracks and on television commercials.
Danny Bennett felt strongly that younger audiences, although completely unfamiliar with Tony Bennett, would respond to his music if only given a chance to see and hear it. More crucially, no changes to Tony's appearance (tuxedo), singing style (his own), musical accompaniment (The Ralph Sharon Trio or an orchestra), or song choice (generally the Great American Songbook) were necessary or desirable.
Accordingly, Danny began to book his father on shows with younger audiences, such as David Letterman's talk shows, The Simpsons, and various MTV programs. The plan worked; as Tony later remembered, "I realized that young people had never heard those songs. Cole Porter, Gershwin – they were like, 'Who wrote that?' To them, it was different. If you're different, you stand out."
During this time, Bennett continued to record, first putting out the acclaimed look back Astoria: Portrait of the Artist (1990), then emphasizing themed albums such as the Sinatra homage Perfectly Frank (1992) and the Fred Astaire tribute Steppin' Out (1993). The latter two both achieved gold status and won Grammys for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance (Bennett's first Grammys since 1962) and further established Bennett as the inheritor of the mantle of a classic American great.
For a detailed discography, see Tony Bennett discography.