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Tony Bennett, one of America’s great crooners and a consistent champion of civil rights, dies at 96


Just two weeks short of his birthday, the great American singer, Tony Bennett, died at the age of 96 in his hometown of New York. Bennett, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, passed away on Friday.

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto, it was often said that no vocalist celebrated the American songbook more energetically or prolifically than Bennett who was influenced by jazz and pop icons who preceded him such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. Some of his signature songs included:  “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Put On a Happy Face”.

A champion of other artists, old and new, Bennett collaborated with greats including Count Basie and other top jazz artists and released landmark albums such as “The White House Sessions − Live 1962” with Dave Brubeck and a pair of albums with pianist Bill Evans in the ’70s.

Bennett also sang with k.d. lang and Elvis Costello, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, and Lady Gaga. Gaga was featured in Bennett’s most recent music including his 2014 album “Cheek to Cheek” and 2021 album “Love for Sale.” During the making of the “Love for Sale” album, in early 2021, Bennett revealed he was battling Alzheimer’s disease. Bennett shared in an interview with AARP that he was first diagnosed in 2016.

Bennett was born Aug. 3, 1926, in Astoria, Queens, New York. His father passed away when he was a child, but his mother was a source of encouragement to Tony and his siblings to sing at home. He attended New York’s prestigious School of Industrial Art, studying music and painting, but had to drop out to help support his family. One of his many jobs included working for a while as a singing waiter.

Bennett was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1944. He fought in World War II and helped liberate a concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany. 

After being discharged, Bennett turned back to music. He studied at the American Theatre Wing through the G.I. Bill, which he acknowledged with gratitude repeatedly.

Bennett was a consistent champion of civil rights. He supported Black artists and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Bennett was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2007 and recognized by the United Nations as a “Citizen of the World.”

Bennett was reintroduced to contemporary audiences in the 90s by his son and manager Danny Bennett.  He advocated for younger artists and founded in 1999 Exploring the Arts, an organization that instructs public high school students in the arts.  Bennett later opened the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in his hometown of Astoria in 2001. 

Bennett is survived by third wife Susan Crow, whom he married in 2007, as well as four children: two sons, Danny and Dae and daughters, Joanna and Antonia. 

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