Tony Bennett without doubt, is one of the great singers of all time. Certainly right up there with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Perry Como, and whoever.
Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born on August 3, 1926, making him currently 90 years old; in Astoria, Queens, New York. He is known by millions of Americans and more millions around the world, as Tony Bennett.
Tony is the father of four children: D’Andrea (Danny), Daegal (Dae), Joanna and Antonia.
Tony, today, leaves no doubt about his political allegiance. He attributes his loyalty to the Democrat Party-as I do-to his experiences of growing up in the Great Depression, his distaste for the effects of the Hoover Administration, and above all to F.D. Roosevelt’s leadership. Quite a combination.
Tony’s musical career began in his early teens. By age 13 he was singing for money. He was performing as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants around his native Queens.
His academic studies came to an early end because he had to quit school and get a job to help support his family. His first job was as a runner and copy boy for the Associated Press in Manhattan and several other low-skilled and low-paying jobs. However, his dream was always to be a professional singer.
Tony’s life changed drastically in November, 1944. As a teenager he was drafted into the U.S. Army in the closing year of World War II. He was assigned to the Seventh Army, 63rd Infantry Division of the 255th Regiment, G Company, and was deployed to France. The winter there in 1945 was one of the harshest ever. By March he and his fellow soldiers had reached Germany and were sent to the front lines where Bennett witnessed war at its worst. He admits in his autobiography to killing Germans. He later described this as “a front-row seat to hell.”
Night time was the worst. They were forbidden to light a fire to keep warm or even a cigarette because the glow would attract German fire.
A major influence upon Tony’s emotions was the final mission of the 255th Regiment. They liberated the survivors of a Nazi concentration camp in Lindsborg, a town just 30 miles south of Dachau. Which, by the way, I have visited.
He says, “I’ll never forget the desperate faces of the prisoners. They couldn’t believe we were liberating them.”
Half of the camp had been killed prior to their arrival, including all of the women and children.
Bennett’s own comment is “The first time I saw a dead German, that’s when I became a pacifist.” It was this period of time when Tony was having coffee with a black soldier that his Army Captain spit on his uniform and he assigned him to dig up the bodies of deceased military personnel. Obviously the Captain was a racist. This event changed his life. He signed up with the Civil Rights Movement. He later marched in the historic 50 mile Selma to Montgomery in 1965. He sang at the event.
In 1949, Pearl Bailey recognized his talent and asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope was there and he took him on the road with him. He also changed his name from Benedetto to Tony Bennett.
In a recent interview he was asked what he considered the greatest issue of today. His answer involved an incident about himself and Ella Fitzgerald. They were good friends and often their families spent holidays together. He quotes her saying, “Tony, we are all here.”
What she meant, he says in the interview, “We are all here on the same planet. No matter what our race, religion, culture or ethnic background is. We are all humans sharing the same space in the universe.”
He continued the interview by saying, “Until we realize it we will never truly reach our goals as human beings.”
In 1965 Frank Sinatra gave the following statement in an interview for Life Magazine: “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more.”
In 1979 Bennett almost died form an overdose of cocaine. He made a great decision. He called for help from his two sons, Danny and Dae. Tony recognized that while he was very talented musically, he had little financial sense. Bennett was severely in debt to creditors and the IRS. While Danny was a mediocre musician, he was very good at business. His creditors were paid off and they began to change his “Vegas” image. Today he doesn’t own a car or a house.
His finance prospered and by the year 2000 he was worth 20-30 million dollars.
Accolades came to him. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, several Grammy’s, he sold over 50 million records worldwide, began to sing with other famous singers including Lady Gaga, Count Basie, Billy Joel and others.
He even spoke out on political issues. “My life experiences, ranging from the Battle of the Bulge to marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., made me a lifelong humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and war is the lowest form of human behavior.” He was against the Iraq War.
Painting is Tony’s second great talent. Each one has his real name on it-Anthony Benedetto. His paintings are shown in galleries throughout the world. By the way, he paints every day of the mundane things he sees looking out of the window. Several of his paintings are in the Smithsonian Institute.
Amen. Selah. So be it.