Bennett grew up during the Great Depression as part of a poor family. As a young teenager, he worked as a singing waiter at Italian restaurants in Queens to help his family make ends meet. In 1944, Bennett was drafted into the U.S. military and shipped off to fight in France and Germany during the latter stages of World War II. After returning from the war, Bennett used his GI Bill to study voice and music at the prestigious American Theatre Wing. He continued to perform regularly throughout New York clubs, sometimes booking as many as seven performances a day. Before long he was signed to a recording deal with Columbia Records.
Bennett proved his versatility as a performer with songs in the jazz, big band, and commercial pop genres. Songs such as “The Best Is Yet To Come,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” exhibited his signature sound that made him an international success. Over the course of his career, Tony Bennett has released more than 70 albums. Despite the waves of Beatlemania, disco, and alternative music, Bennett has maintained his own course in devoting his talents to jazz standards and the classic songs. This is not lost upon his fans, both new and old, who view Bennett’s music as timeless and the man himself as the epitome of class.
Alongside his iconic personality on the stage, Bennett has earned this reputation through a lifetime of generosity and social activism. An ardent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Bennett participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. More recently, Bennett can be heard on the “We Are the World 25 for Haiti” charity single in support of earthquake survivors. He is an active supporter of the American Cancer Society, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and MusiCares, to name but a few organizations. Last but not least, Bennett is also the co-founder of the Exploring the Arts organization and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Bennett’s hometown of Queens, with both organizations dedicated to arts education for underprivileged youth. Clearly, Mr. Bennett is a firm believer in the power of education and the immeasurable value it brings to his hometown community.
Despite Tony Bennett’s iconic status within the world of American pop music, he remains willing to take risks and is determined to continue his evolution as a performer and collaborator. We can see evidence of this in his 2011 release Duets II, in which he performed alongside as diverse as Willie Nelson, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, Aretha Franklin, and Lady Gaga. Bennett continues to cross generational boundaries with his music and shows no signs of slowing down.
Like the lyrics of the song that help make famous teach us, for a forward-thinking Tony Bennett, the best is always yet to come.