Tony Bennett, a celebrated American jazz vocalist whose career spanned nearly eighty years, has died. He was 96 years old.
Publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett's death to The Associated Press, saying he died in his hometown of New York. There was no specific cause, but Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2016.
The last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century, Bennett often said his lifelong ambition was to create "a hit catalog rather than hit records." He released more than 70 albums, bringing him 19 competitive Grammys, all but two after he reached his 60s, and enjoyed deep and lasting affection from fans and fellow artists.
Tony Bennett performs at the 9th Annual Exploring The Arts Gala founded by Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto at Cipriani 42nd Street on September 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images 8th Annual Exploring The Arts Ga
Bennett didn’t tell his own story when performing; he let the music speak instead — the Gershwins and Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. Unlike his friend and mentor Sinatra, he would interpret a song rather than embody it. If his singing and public life lacked the high drama of Frank Sinatra’s, Bennett appealed with an easy, courtly manner and an uncommonly rich and durable voice — "A tenor who sings like a baritone," he called himself — that made him a master of caressing a ballad or brightening an up-tempo number.
"I enjoy entertaining the audience, making them forget their problems," he told The Associated Press in 2006. "I think people ... are touched if they hear something that’s sincere and honest and maybe has a little sense of humor. ... I just like to make people feel good when I perform."
Columbia recording artist Tony Bennett as a teen idol.
Bennett was praised often by his peers, but never more meaningfully than by what Sinatra said in a 1965 Life magazine interview: "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."
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on Aug. 3, 1926, in Astoria Queens, New York, Bennett grew up during the Great Depression. His family fell on hard times when his father died when he was just 10 years old.
Recording artists Lady Gaga (R) and Tony Bennett perform onstage during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
Bennett went on to join the Army and was an infantry member during World War II. He eventually used the money he earned from his service to pursue studies in singing at the American Theater Wing in New York City.
Bennett got his first break under the moniker Joe Bari but after a suggestion from show business legend Bob Hope, he changed his name to Tony Bennett and eventually toured with Hope.
In 1950, Bennett signed with Columbia Records where he released his early hits "Because of You" and "Rags to Riches."
Bennett won his first set of Grammy Awards for Best Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance when he released "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in 1962.
Bennett experienced a rough patch in the 1970s when he left Columbia Records to start his own label, Improv. He produced several albums including "The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album" in 1975 but by the end of the decade, the label went out of business.
Recording artist Tony Bennett attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Bennett’s career had a resurgence in the mid-’90s when he released a series of tribute albums, including "Perfectly Frank" in 1992 and "Tony Bennett: The Playground" in 1998.
In 2014, at age 88, Bennett broke his own record as the oldest living performer with a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart for "Cheek to Cheek," his duets project with Lady Gaga. Three years earlier, he topped the charts with "Duets II," featuring such contemporary stars as Gaga, Carrie Underwood and Amy Winehouse, in her last studio recording. His rapport with Winehouse was captured in the Oscar-nominated documentary "Amy," which showed Bennett patiently encouraging the insecure young singer through a performance of "Body and Soul."
Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse attend the after show party for Tony Bennett's concert at Royal Albert Hall on July 1, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)
His final album, the 2021 release "Love for Sale," featured duets with Lady Gaga on the title track, "Night and Day" and other Porter songs.
Bennett’s family revealed in early 2021 that the 19-time Grammy winner had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The singer’s wife and son revealed to AARP The Magazine that Bennett began showing symptoms of the disease in 2015 and was diagnosed the following year.
The magazine said the singer endured "increasingly rarer moments of clarity and awareness" at the time.
"He’s not the old Tony anymore," his wife, Susan, told the magazine. "But when he sings, he’s the old Tony."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.