Tony Bennett, beloved popular music vocalist, passed away Friday at 96, his publicist said in a statement. Bennett, with his own brand of jazz and pop, had timeless and universal appeal. One particular phenomenon was his popularity among the MTV generation.
Born Anthony Bennedetto on Aug. 3, 1926, in Astoria, Queens, Tony Bennett got his start in music after having studied singing at the American Theatre Wing. He was reported to have been discovered by the legendary African American singer Pearl Bailey, who hired him to open for her in 1949. The crooner signed with Columbia Records a year later, achieving hits such as “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.” He had a signature hit in 1962 with B-side “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He won the 1962 GRAMMYs for Record of the Year and Solo Vocal Performance – his first of 18 GRAMMYs over seven decades.
Recruited by Harry Belafonte for Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 march from Selma, Alabama, he risked his career by participating in the movement for equal rights and for an end to racial segregation. He would continue to speak out on other social causes throughout his life, such as gun violence.
“Life is a gift — even with Alzheimer’s,” Bennett’s once tweeted. His family revealed in 2021 to AARP Magazine that he had been battling Alzheimer’s for the previous five years, and yet he still managed to make more music and charm the new generation.
When he wasn’t recording or performing, he was painting. Under his birth name, his paintings have been exhibited in the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bennett is survived by his wife since 2007, Susan Crow as well as his four children including Antonia Bennett, also a skilled standards singer.