Anthony Benedetto turned 83 in August, and here’s a news flash: The man can still belt a tune. My wife and I went to see him in Atlanta a couple of years back, figuring we might not have another chance. But he’s still touring, and still “has it.”
Tony is one of “The Greatest Generation”, a World War II veteran who began his singing career after the war. He was discovered by Pearl Bailey, and signed to his first major record contract by Mitch Miller. He recorded his first number one song and million seller, “Because of You,” in 1951.
1951. As in 58 years ago.
Tony has always stayed true to himself and his style, even when rock music seemed to sweep away all the attention from those who sang jazz standards. He went through some difficult years, a divorce, financial hardship, and finally no recording contract. Oddly, the person who helped change his life was his son, Danny. He booked Tony on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien so he could be seen by a younger audience. And they liked him. Tony 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.”
Over the years he’s received the recognition he’s due. Fifteen Grammys, two Emmys, recognition by the Kennedy Center Honors, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s an incredible talent, and no less a critic than Frank Sinatra said of him, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more.”
Oh Tony….The most mellow notes ever sung, and he’s only gotten better and better as he’s grown older, and much better looking too. One of the great things about many of Tony’s recordings is how they start out mellow and build to a crescendo, as in “Yesterday I Heard the Rain,” my favorite of Tony’s recordings. Great choice for a great American thing!