VARIETY – Tony Bennett, the master pop vocalist who had a professional career spanning eight decades with a No. 1 album at age 85, died on Friday morning in New York City. He was 96.
Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, but had continued to perform and record through 2021.
His peer Frank Sinatra called him the greatest popular singer in the world. His recordings – most of them made for Columbia Records, which signed him in 1950 – were characterized by ebullience, immense warmth, vocal clarity and emotional openness.
A gifted and technically accomplished interpreter of the Great American Songbook, he may be best known for his signature 1962 hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
He was equally at home in front of intimate combos (which often featured his pianist and longtime musical director Ralph Sharon) and lushly arranged orchestras. Though never strictly a jazz singer, he flourished in jazz settings, and cut memorable sessions with Count Basie’s big band and the lyrical pianist Bill Evans.
“Drafted at 18 in 1944, he served in World War II’s European theater, doing combat infantry duty and liberating a German concentration camp. After the end of the conflict, he sang as a member of an Armed Forces band.”
Active as a recording artist from 1949, and one of the top pop performers in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Bennett saw his career surge anew in the ‘90s and again in the new millennium, under the management of his son Danny.
His last public appearance came with Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall in August 2021, two months before his last release, the Bennett-Gaga set “Love For Sale,” the sequel to their chart-topping 2014 collaboration “Cheek to Cheek.”
After gaining a young new audience with smartly booked TV appearances, his “MTV Unplugged” album of 1994 — released when Bennett was 67 — won a Grammy as album of the year.
A pair of “Duets” albums in 2006 and 2011 enlisted new fans; the latter release reached the apex of the U.S. chart.
Raised in poverty, he began singing as a child, and studied music and his other lifelong love, painting, at New York’s High School of Industrial Art.
His vocal influences included Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and, later, Frank Sinatra, as well as such female singers as Billie Holiday and Judy Garland …