Tony Bennett, who made the Great American Songbook all his own and released more than 70 albums during his remarkable 70-year-career in music, has died at the age of 96 at his home in New York. A cause of death has not been revealed, although Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.
“Tony left us today but he was still singing the other day at his piano and his last song was ‘Because of You,’ his first No. 1 hit,” the artist’s family wrote on Twitter this morning (July 21). “Tony, because of you we have your songs in our heart forever.”
Born on Aug. 3, 1926 as Anthony Dominick Benedetto in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, Bennett always knew he wanted to be a singer. After a stint in the Army during World War II, his career officially began in the 1950s when he signed with Columbia Records and released “Because of You” in 1951.
As his profile rose, Bennett became known for his spin on songs such as “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Body and Soul,” and his signature 1962 hit “(I Left My Heart) In San Francisco,” which peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. Frank Sinatra once called Bennett “the best singer in the business.”
With rock’n’roll all the rage, Bennett struggled to find an audience from the mid ’60s into the late ’70s, when it was suggested he record more contemporary material to fit in with the times. He also dealt with drug and financial issues, but his career got back on track in 1979 with the help of his sons Danny and Dae, who became his managers and shrewdly helped introduce him to younger listeners via regular appearances on Late Night With David Letterman and holiday season performances from 1993-2009 on that show’s successor, Late Night With Conan O’Brien.
Without abandoning his formal stage attire or elegant songbook, Bennett saw his career renaissance reach improbable new heights at age 67 when a recording of his iconic 1994 MTV Unplugged taping won the Album of the Year Grammy. Bennett went on to collaborate with John Mayer, K.D. Lang, Sting, and Amy Winehouse, but his most fruitful late-career musical partner was Lady Gaga.
In 2014, the then-88-year-old Bennett became the oldest living performer to land a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 in tandem with Gaga on the standard collection Cheek to Cheek, breaking his own prior record for 2011’s Duets II. In 2021, the singers released a follow-up, Love for Sale. Bennett’s final public performance was with Gaga in August 2021 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
During his illustrious career, Bennett sold an estimated 60 million records and won 20 Grammys. His albums charted in every decade from the 1950s through the 2020s.
Outside of music, Bennett was known for his humanitarian efforts. He participated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, and was a vocal supporter the Civil Rights Movement. He also co-founded the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts in New York City and his paintings are featured in the Smithsonian Museum’s permanent collection.
Bennett is survived by his third wife, Susan; four children; and nine grandchildren.