Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
A long, long time ago, my mother, in a group of people that included my father, said with a big grin that a certain celebrity could place his shoes under her bed anytime. She was referring to Tony Bennett. Everyone was laughing. Dad looked like he swallowed a mouse.
On Wednesday of this week Bennett turned 96. If that sounds old it’s because it is. But in the world of entertainment it’s safe to say to everybody loves Tony Bennett. The legendary pop and jazz singer has fans of all ages. This week, a tribute.
Bennett grew up in a poor family of Italian immigrants, but his uncle was a vaudeville tap dancer, giving him an early window into show business, singing in restaurants for money at the age of 13.
Drafted by the U.S. Army in November 1944, Bennett served as an infantryman in Europe, moving across France, and later into Germany.
“The Germans were frightened,” said Bennett. “We were frightened. Nobody wanted to kill anybody when we were on the line, but the weapons were so strong that it overcame us and everybody else.”
Bennett credited the Army with allowing him to study singing under the GI Bill. He also admitted that his two years of service gave him enough time to witness the horrors of war.
“The first time I saw a dead German, that’s when I became a pacifist,” he said. The sight of death “was a nightmare that’s permanent. I just said, ‘This is not life. This is not life.’”
After leaving the service he worked on his vocal technique, signed with Columbia records, and had his first #1 record in 1951.
More hits followed like “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Rags to Riches,” and in 1962 his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” But Bennett’s commercial popularity and career would start to fade due to a crooner’s nightmare: rock and roll.
By the late 1970s, Bennett’s career was ailing. He had no record label, no manager, and he was performing almost exclusively in Vegas. Living in Los Angeles, he had a drug habit, a disintegrating marriage, and mounting debts. When the IRS started proceedings to take away his home, he nearly overdosed, and had a near-death experience. “A golden light enveloped me in a warm glow,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I had the sense that I was about to embark on a very compelling journey. But suddenly I was jolted out of the vision…. I knew I had to make major changes in my life.”
He reached out to his sons, Danny and Daegal. Then living in New Jersey, they played in a rock band together. Danny managed the group, setting up rehearsals and booking shows. They recall flying in for an emergency meeting at their father’s art studio. “He said, ‘Look, I’m lost here,’ ” says Danny. ” ‘It seems like people don’t want to hear the music I make.’ “
Danny suggested that his father curb his spending and jump-start his career by appealing to a younger audience. Bennett hired Danny as his manager. The son put the father on a strict budget (Tony moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan), took him out of Vegas (right money, wrong image), scheduled concerts at colleges and small theaters, and got him re-signed to Columbia Records in the mid-1980s. At the time, Bennett hadn’t recorded an album in 11 years. Danny also got him on hip shows like The Simpsons, and when Tony wanted to be on MTV, Danny made it happen. Bennett recorded one of the network’s Unplugged segments in 1994, and his Unplugged disk won a Grammy. “We didn’t make it cool to like Tony Bennett,” says Danny. “We just put him in places that were cool to be.”
Over the years Bennett has done duets with all kinds of singers, some you wouldn’t expect.
This next song was released for the first time in 1947 and means “Life in rosy hues.” French singer Edith Piaf made it her signature song, with joyful lyrics about finding true love.
“A Wonderful World“ was an album recorded by Bennett and k.d. lang (36 years younger than Tony) released in 2002.
The album won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Oh, this gentleman paints, too.
He had been painting every day, even while touring internationally. He has exhibited his work in galleries around the world and was chosen to be the official artist of the 2001 Kentucky Derby, creating two original paintings celebrating this historic event.
As previously mentioned the MTV generation first took Bennett to heart during his appearance with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the 1993 MTV Video Awards ceremony.
“Tony Bennett has not just bridged the generation gap,” pointed out The New York Times, “he has demolished it. He has solidly connected with a younger crowd weaned on rock. And there have been no compromises.”
In 2006 Bennett recorded his “Duets” album to coincide with his 80th birthday and so popular there had to be a “Duets II” that came five years later for another milestone Bennett birthday, #85, and featured Amy Winehouse’s last recording she made before her death. This pop and jazz standard was written in 1930.
The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 making Bennett the oldest living artist to reach that top spot, as well as marking the first time he had reached it himself.
Following the deaths of Winehouse and Whitney Houston Bennett called for the legalization of all drugs.
“In Amsterdam they legalized drugs and it calmed everybody down. It stopped a lot of gangsters who sneak around and get people to take drugs. Everybody gets wounded that way. By legalizing it, you won’t have that problem. It’s called the elimination of ignorance. If you do something that makes things better, why not do it immediately, whatever it is.”
At the end of 2014 the 88-year old Bennett and 28-year old Lady Gaga kicked off their “Cheek to Cheek” tour that followed their album of the same name a few months earlier.
Bennett’s final album “Love For Sale,” again a collaboration with Lady Gaga, was released on September 30, 2021. From the album…
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
Bennett, whose awards and accolades are simply much too numerous to mention, revealed this past February that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016, but it’s been progressing slowly.
“Touring keeps him on his toes and also stimulates his brain in a significant way,” said his doctor.
But he’s now retired from performing.
This summer Bennett in a wheelchair was seen in a rare appearance in Central Park.
“It sounds so simple, but if you just be yourself, you’re different than anyone else. To me, life is a gift, and it’s a blessing to just be alive. And each person should learn what a gift it is to be alive no matter how tough things get.“
God bless him.
One thought on “Goodnight everyone, and have a ‘life is a gift’ weekend”
Pingback: My Most Popular Blogs (08/08/22) | This Just In… From Franklin, WI