15 Things You Didn’t Know About Tony Bennett (1926 – 2023)

Tony Bennett, the legendary pop and jazz singer, died on Friday, July 21 at the age of 96, less than two weeks shy of his birthday, his publicist said in a statement.

Bennett’s death was confirmed by his publicist Sylvia Weiner in a statement to the Associated Press. Weiner said that Bennett died in his hometown of New York. A cause was not immediately disclosed, but Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

During a career that spanned eight decades, the crooner sold millions of records and won countless awards. As people around the world celebrate the life and music of Tony Bennett, we take a look back at 15 things that you may not have known about the music icon.

1. Tony Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926, in Astoria in the Queens borough of New York City. Benedetto means “blessed one” in Italian.

2. He began singing for money at the age of 13, performing as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants around his native Queens.

3. He attended New York’s School of Industrial Art where he studied painting and music. But, he dropped out at age 16 to help support his family.

4. Bennett was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944, during the final stages of World War II. After serving in the war, he started singing under the name Joe Bari, after a city in Italy. According to Bennett, Bob Hope told him it was a “phony name,” and said his real name was “a little long for the marquee. Let’s economize it and call you Tony Bennett.”

5. Bennett’s big singing break came thanks to Pearl Bailey. In 1949, Bailey noticed that Bennett was struggling to get his foot in the door of the music industry, so she invited him to open for her shows in Greenwich Village. The rest was history.

6. Bennett began his career as a crooner of commercial pop tunes. His first big hit was “Because of You,” a ballad he released in 1951 from the album Because of You.

7. 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. The couple had two sons: D’Andrea (Danny, born 1954) and Daegal (Dae, born 1955).

8. In the late 60’s through the 70’s, Bennett struggled with drug addiction. According to Bennett, a friend, the manager for the late comic Lenny Bruce, said of Bennett, “he sinned against his talent.” “That one sentence just changed my life. It meant that I had to drop everything I was doing. I stopped all drugs completely,” Bennett said.

9. Following his struggle with drug addiction, Bennett continued to record and tour steadily, doing a hundred shows a year by the end of the 1990s. In concert Bennett would often make a point of singing one song (usually “Fly Me to the Moon”) without any microphone or amplification, to demonstrate his vocal abilities.

10. In the late 1980s, Bennett entered into a long-term romantic relationship with Susan Crow, a former New York City schoolteacher. On June 21, 2007, the two married in a private civil ceremony in New York that was witnessed by former Governor Mario Cuomo.

11. Bennett released over 70 albums during his career, with almost all being for Columbia Records.

12. Between the recording sessions and concerts, Bennett also had success as a painter, done under his real name of Anthony Benedetto or just Benedetto. He reportedly sketched or painted every day, often of views out of hotel windows when he was on tour. His paintings have been exhibited in the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

13. In 2001, Tony founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a performing Arts High School in Astoria, Queens. He named it in memory his best friend and colleague. The school is public but receives support from Exploring the Arts, a non-profit organization founded by Tony and his wife Susan, a former public school teacher, which helps fund public arts high school in New York City and Los Angeles.

14. His last public concert performances were at Radio City Music Hall on August 3 and 5, 2021, to celebrate his 95th birthday.

15. Bennett won 20 Grammys throughout his legendary career, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He won his last Grammy for his collaborative album with Lady Gaga, “Love For Sale,” which was released in 2021. Other accolades in his celebrated career include two Emmy awards and being named a Kennedy Center honoree, a Gershwin Prize honoree and a NEA Jazz Master.

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