Tony Bennett, beloved jazz crooner, dies at 96

Beloved entertainer Tony Bennett, the American jazz vocalist known best for his signature song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” winner of 20 Grammys and frequent singing partner to Lady Gaga, has died.

Tony Bennett
at the 2008 Sony BMG Music Grammy Awards After Party. The Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA. 02-10-08

Bennett, who was 96, died in New York City on Friday, his publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed to TODAY. No cause was given, but in 2021, Bennett’s family revealed had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

He would have turned 97 on Aug. 3.

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on Aug. 3, 1926, in New York City to a close-knit family of Southern Italian descent, it was Bennett’s kin and culture that instilled a passion for song within him at an early age.

Bennett’s longtime friend, musician Eugene Di Novi, told “All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennet” biographer David Evanier that, “Tony would absorb the rich Italian heritage of music throughout his childhood.”

The book quotes Bennett himself recalling how his relatives would gather together on Sundays to celebrate with song.

“They would clap like this,” he said, clapping a rhythm with his hands. “And we would sing for them. We couldn’t wait until Sunday to be with all the relatives. … I realized, this is natural, the way it’s supposed to be.

“There was never a touch of loneliness, never a thought of what’s going to happen to me. It’s funny that, in the middle of deep poverty, it was the warmest time of my life.’”

In 1962, Bennett recorded a track that would be associated with him throughout the remainder of his career — “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The jazz-pop ballad earned the crooner the Grammy for Record of the Year and Best Solo Male Performance of the year, the first two of 20 such awards he received through his decades in the spotlight.

Bennett’s popularity ebbed and flowed as audiences’ tastes changed, but he never changed, always performing the same tried and true material with his smooth delivery. After a slump in the 1970s, he began to rise in fame once more in the 1980s. And by the 1990s, his songs returned to the charts as younger music lovers discovered him.

The early aughts saw the perennial performer surge again as he released “Duets: An American Classic,” an album that paired him with contemporary hit makers like Tim McGraw, Celine Dion, John Legend and Elton John. He followed up the success of that recording by releasing “Duets II” in 2011, featuring musical partnerships with Amy Winehouse, Michael Bublé and one performer who would become an enduring singing partner and friend — Lady Gaga.

In addition to numerous live performances together, Lady Gaga and Bennett also performed two full-length albums, 2014’s “Cheek to Cheek” and 2021’s “Love for Sale.” It was after the former record that Bennett left a lasting mark on pop music superstar.

“I asked Tony to sketch a trumpet for me, and he decided to sketch Miles Davis’ trumpet — an iconic trumpet,” Gaga told TODAY when the two promoted the album shortly before its release. “I decided to get a tattoo (of it) because I loved it so much.”

Bennett was married three times. First to Patricia Beech (1950-1970), with whom he shared sons Danny and Dae Bennett, then to Sandra Grant (1971 — 1983), with whom he shared daughters Joanna and Antonia Bennett.

In 2007, he married his longtime girlfriend, Susan Crow, who remained by his side for the remainder of his life.

Bennett is survived by his wife, children and nine grandchildren.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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