Public Media Arts Hub

Remembering the life and legendary career of Tony Bennett


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: Finally, tonight, remembering Tony Bennett, one of the greatest singers of American standards.

Bennett died today at the age of 96, following a seven-decade-long career. He recorded more than 70 albums and won 19 Grammys, picking up most of those after he turned 60. After serving as a combat infantryman in World War II who helped liberate a concentration camp, Tony Bennett came back to New York in 1946, and was signed by Columbia Records in 1950.

But it wasn't until the 1960s when he truly broke through as a major star, after becoming known for his signature song, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."


Geoff Bennett: In the decades that followed, he devoted much of his career to singing in the works of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and others, along with jazz standards, which he often referred to as the great American songbook.

More recently, he was known for his duets with contemporary artists and a long collaboration with Lady Gaga that led to albums and concerts. Tony Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2016. But he performed even after that.

Jeffrey Brown sat down with him back in 2014. He asked him how he got started, and about his love for jazz.

Tony Bennett, Singer: My father died when I was 10 years old. And all my relatives, aunt, uncles, nieces, nephews, they would come over every Sunday.

And my brother, my sister and myself would entertain them. They would make a circle around us. And it was just at the time, being 10 years old, I was saying, what am I going to do in life? Who is -- is anybody ever going to know me or anything like that?

And my family would say, we like the way you sing and we like the way you paint those flowers. So they created a passion in me of always trying to improve.

And here I am, 88, and I'm still working and trying to get better and better at what I'm doing.

Jeffrey Brown: You still feel that, right?

Tony Bennett: Oh, absolutely.

Jeffrey Brown: I mean, you remember that young guy first starting to sing, and then here you are, still singing.

Tony Bennett: Well, I was blessed under the G.I. Bill of Rights when I came out of the service and the war.

I joined the American Theatre Wing. And it was a great source, that they allowed us to continue school that we missed during the war. The main thing I that learned from them was to always stay with quality, never compromise. You know, don't just try and get a hit record. Let's do something's that is going to last.

Jeffrey Brown: He told me he's especially eager to help keep the jazz music he loves alive. And that, too, ties into the new work with Lady Gaga.

Tony Bennett: It's the only great art form that's ever been created in the United States, by African-Americans in New Orleans. They invented it, to improvise, elongated improvisation. And it's a wonderful art.

So, that's the reason I did the album with Lady Gaga, to reach that young audience that she has. And for the first time in their life, they hear wonderful songs that swing and last forever. They're great American songs that were done in the '20s and '30s.

Geoff Bennett: He was one of a kind.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.