Tony Bennett, the legendary singer of jazz and pop standars, has died at the age of 96. Bennett’s publicist, Sylvia Weiner, confirmed his death to the Associated Press, adding that he died in his hometown of New York City. No cause of death has been reported, but Bennett had been living with Alzheimer’s disease since 2016.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Queens, New York, on August 3, 1926, Bennett won 20 Grammy Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. He released more than 60 studio albums and sold over 50 million records worldwide, appearing on the charts every decade of his recording career.
The son of Italian immigrants, Bennett attended Manhattan’s High School of Industrial Arts and eventually landed a job as a singing waiter. He was drafted into the US Army in 1944, performing in military bands in Europe before returning home to study the bel canto singing discipline at the American Theatre Wing school on the G.I. Bill. After playing his first night club show in 1946, he caught a break in 1949 when Bob Hope saw him opening for singer and actress Pearl Bailey at a Greenwich Village club. Hope gave the singer his stage name and helped him land a recording deal, and signed to Columbia Records, Bennett released his first single, ‘Because of You’, in 1951.
Bennett’s signature song, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, written by George Cory and Douglass Cross, was released in 1962, winning a Grammy for Record of the Year. His deep love of jazz led to collaborations with musicians including Herbie Mann, Art Blakey, and Nat Adderley, and he made two albums with the Count Basie Orchestra. His 1994 MTV Unplugged special, which featured appearances from Elvis Costello and k.d. lang, was a surprise winner for the Album of the Year Grammy.
In 2011, Bennett recorded a duet with Amy Winehouse of ‘Body and Soul’, which was Winehouse’s final recording. In 2014, Bennett and Lady Gaga joined forces for their first album of duets, Cheek to Cheek. It was followed in 2021 by Love for Sale, which broke the individual record for the longest run of a Top 10 album on the Billboard 200 chart for any living artist. In August of 2021, a week after his 95th birthday, Bennett joined Lady Gaga for a pair of farewell concerts at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Bennett became a best-selling author, recipient of the United Nations’ Citizen of the World award, Kennedy Center Honoree, and an NEA Jazz Master. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery and co-founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, New York. He was also a painter, with one of his works, Central Park, hanging in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.