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The Life and Career of Tony Bennett

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born August 3rd, 1926 in Queens, New York, Tony Bennett was discovered by Bob Hope in the late 1940's and had his first hit with Columbia Records in the 1950's. He soon gained popularity with his own rendition of classic songs and covers of pop standards but suffered a few periods of struggle due to personal issues and preferences of the music industry. However, he stayed true to his style of music and performance and won many awards for his work in the later part of his career. In this video, we take a look at the life and career of Tony Bennett.

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Early Musical Beginnings

Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born on August 3rd, 1926 in Queens, New York. He became interested in music before the age of ten and decided to study the subject in high school. However, his family was poor so he dropped out to find work a few years later. He did, however, continue to perform locally.

Discovery and Name Change

After serving in the U.S. Army near the end of the Second World War, Benedetto worked on his singing skills at the American Theatre Wing. His local performances soon landed him a spot in Bob Hope’s traveling stage show by the end of the 1940s. It was around this time that he adopted the name Tony Bennett.

Chart-topping Hits

Bennett signed to Columbia Records in 1950 and had his first hit the next year. Bennett’s reputation as a crooner of pop standards began to form with his second chart-topping hit. He quickly gained popularity among female teens. In 1952, he married Patricia Beech and then reached number one again in 1953. After finding success with his recording of “Stranger in Paradise” from the Broadway musical “Kismet,” he soon made show tunes a staple of his repertoire.

Rock and Roll and Jazz

Things changed during the mid-1950s with the increasing popularity of rock and roll. Bennett began scoring fewer number ones, though several of his songs did chart in the Billboard Top 40. In 1955, he released his first LP, Cloud 7, and then turned to his jazz interests with the next few projects. He found critical and commercial success with releases such as The Beat of My Heart and In Person!

"I Left My Heart in San Francisco"

By the 1960s, Bennett had made a name for himself with a nightclub act that featured jazz and standards in the vein of Frank Sinatra. He released the classic pop record I Left My Heart in San Francisco in 1962, and this featured his Grammy-winning signature tune. The next year, he reached the fifth position on the charts with the album I Wanna Be Around.

Decline in Sales and Film Debut

The mid-1960s were soon taken over by rock and roll and The Beatles-led British Invasion. As a result, Bennett’s record sales declined. He did however have a few minor hits and made his film debut in 1966’s “The Oscar.”

Period of Struggle

He attempted to record contemporary rock songs on Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!, but this effort did not boost sales. The 1970s were a period of struggle for Bennett. Personally, he faced his first divorce. This was followed by his second marriage to Sarah Grant and his eventual separation from her by the decade’s end. He also developed a drug addiction. Professionally, despite some critical success, he was forced to close down the label he created, Improv Records, by 1977.


Things turned around by the 1980s. His son Danny became his manager and traditional pop music was coming back in style. Bennett returned to Columbia Records and released his comeback record The Art of Excellence in 1986.

Grammy Awards and Contemporary Success

This was followed by a string of critical and commercial successes, including the Grammy-winning records Perfectly Frank and Steppin’ Out in the early 1990s. Bennett found that he did not have to change his musical style or his appearance to attract the attention of a younger audience. This was especially evident from his successful television performances, such as his 1994 appearance on “MTV Unplugged”.

More Success

Bennett continued to win Grammys. Notable theme-based albums included Here’s to the Ladies and Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool, while successful records featuring duets included Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues and A Wonderful World.


Showing no signs of retiring, Bennett carried on recording and touring throughout his eighties. His 2006 collection Duets: An American Classic peaked at the third position on the Billboard chart and became his highest charting record to date. The next year, Bennett married girlfriend Susan Crow and in 2008, he came out with the holiday album A Swingin’ Christmas. In 2011, he released the vocal jazz album Duets II.

Staying Power

His multiple talents include singing and painting, and with these Tony Bennett has proven that his art truly has staying power.

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