A 15 May 2019 photo of American singer Tony Bennett during the inauguration of the Statue of Liberty Museum in New York. EFE/ Alba Vigaray

Era-spanning American singer Tony Bennett dead at 96

New York, Jul 21 (EFE).- Tony Bennett, a Queens-born singer who enjoyed a musical career spanning nearly eight decades and is best known for his interpretations of American classic pop and jazz standards, died on Friday at his home in New York City, his publicist said. He was 96.

Bennett, who was praised by Frank Sinatra in 1965 as “the best singer in the business,” was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016 but continued to record and perform until 2021.

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in 1926 to an Italian grocer and seamstress in the New York City borough of Queens, he discovered his twin passions for singing and painting while studying at the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan.

He began singing under the stage name Joe Bari while in military service in occupied Germany during World War II.

Then, after the war ended and he returned to the United States, he studied vocal technique at the American Theatre Wing, a New York City-based non-profit organization.

He enjoyed two major career breaks in back-to-back years when he was hired and began touring alongside American comedian Bob Hope in 1949 (when he shortened his name to Tony Bennett) and then was signed by major label Columbia Records in 1950.

But his jump to stardom did not come until 1962 with the release of his version of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

A track with music by George Cory and lyrics by Douglass Cross that had been created nine years earlier but was virtually unknown to the public, it became Bennett’s signature song and won him two Grammy awards – Record of the Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance.

Bennett also enjoyed commercial success with his 1963 album “I Wanna Be Around….”

But his career took a nose-dive around the mid-1960s when rock bands like The Beatles started to dominate the musical scene and jazz and standards singers were sidelined.

He had no passion for the material produced that decade and his attempts to record covers of tracks by The Beatles and other contemporary artists fell flat.

Later, in the 1970s, Bennett found himself without a recording contract and developed a cocaine addiction before turning his life around with the help of his sons.

In the early 1990s, Bennett’s renditions of classic American songs began to reach a new, younger audience and led to his winning a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance for a pair of albums that paid tribute to Sinatra and Fred Astaire.

He also released a highly successful live album in 1994 that was part of the MTV Unplugged television series and won him more Grammys, including the prestigious Album of the Year prize.

That commercial success continued until his latter years and included a pair of collaborative albums with American recording artist Lady Gaga: 2014’s “Cheek to Cheek” and “Love for Sale,” released in September 2021.

All told, Bennett won 20 Grammy Awards for his recordings, as well as two Primetime Emmy Awards for televised stage performances in 1996 and 2007.

Bennett’s creativity also extended to world of film, with the singer appearing as himself in the 1999 mafia comedy movie “Analyze This” starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal.

And he was a passionate painter who exhibited his work under his birth name at venues such as the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Although he recorded albums and performed on stage from the 1950s until his final years, Bennett used to say he had never worked a day in his life because he loved what he did. EFE