Tony Bennett's Heart Envelops Music Fans across Generations
Tony Bennett, the last of the great saloon singers, dies.
Flowers were placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame star of the late singer Tony Bennett in Los Angeles on July 21, 2023. Bennett passed away at the age of 96, just two weeks before his birthday.
What do Paul McCartney, Queen Latifah, Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, k.d. lang, Bono, Billy Joel, Carrie Underwood, Judy Garland, John Legend, and Placido Domingo have in common? They all performed duets with Tony Bennett. Listing all the musicians who collaborated with Bennett would be an extensive task. His place in music history is already secure.
Bennett, who passed away at the age of 96 on Friday, was known as "the last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century." However, this description limits his impact to a specific era, when in reality, Bennett transcended generations in a way few musicians have.
He was adored by older listeners for his interpretations of songs by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and George Gershwin. His strong and stalwart voice remained true well into his 90s. Bennett was also influenced by jazz and played a role in popularizing the genre. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight for civil rights.
But Bennett's appeal extended beyond older listeners. He was admired by those who left their hearts in San Francisco at the corner of Haight-Ashbury or in trendy dance clubs. Singer Ben Folds, who is 40 years younger than Bennett, attributes his enduring appeal to the man himself. Folds describes Bennett's voice as kind, casual, and in the moment, with a generous and non-uptight phrasing. Bennett made people feel cared for, a quality that set him apart from many of his contemporaries.
Many of Bennett's successful late-career duets were made possible by the savvy marketing of his son and manager, Danny. However, the famous duet partners could have declined the opportunity. Yet, few did. They recognized the sweet and tender manner Bennett brought to the studio, whether it was working with Lady Gaga or Amy Winehouse. In fact, Bennett's duet with Winehouse on "Body and Soul" was her last studio recording before her death. Gaga, who developed a close bond with Bennett, supported him through his battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Bennett even drew and signed an image of Miles Davis' trumpet, which Gaga now wears as a tattoo.
k.d. lang, known for her formidable voice, also collaborated with Bennett in the 1990s. She praised Bennett for being a place of refuge for the American songbook and for only singing songs he loved. Bennett's talent was undeniable. In a video of him performing "New York State of Mind" with Billy Joel at Shea Stadium, Bennett steals the show, and Joel can't help but beam with admiration.
Bennett's class and elegance were evident in his performances. He always appeared on stage in a tuxedo or tailored suit. Even during an earthquake in a Los Angeles hotel room in 1994, Bennett took the time to change into a suit before joining fellow evacuees. Music critic Jim Farber noted that Bennett never sounded age inappropriate when collaborating with contemporary artists. He always maintained control over his musical style and guided others to fit his vision.
Bennett's influence on contemporary artists like Gaga, Diana Krall, and John Mayer is immeasurable. They carry a certain understanding and knowledge that they gained firsthand from Bennett. But beyond his impact on the music industry, Bennett's legacy lies in the memories he created for countless individuals. Many people recall sitting with their families, listening to Bennett's voice and feeling a sense of warmth and nostalgia. These moments are cherished and treasured, representing the true legacy of Tony Bennett.