Biography of Tony Bennett

The Swinging Crooner Turned 90 in 2016

Tony Bennett at the Macy's Day Parade
John Lamparski / Contributor / Getty Images

Claims to Fame

  • Perhaps the most famous of the Italian "bel canto" singers
  • One of the most famous and influential jazz vocalists of all time
  • A swinging pop vocalist who stood in contrast to Frank Sinatra's more thoughtful style
  • Considered by Sinatra himself to be the best singer of the era
  • Engineered not one but two amazing comebacks—first in the mid-Sixties as an adult contemporary artist, later in the '90s as a hipster icon


Great American Songbook, Torch Song, Lounge, Adult Contemporary, Easy Listening, Jazz Vocal, Pop Vocal

Early Years

Tony Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1923 in Astoria, Queens. Though he grew up equally interested in art, Tony Bennett became a singer at a young age, at least in part to escape the poverty of his Depression-era upbringing (his father died when Tony was 10). A stint at New York's High School of Industrial Art had to be cut short, but Tony never lost sight of his career path, moonlighting as a singing waiter in local Italian restaurants. However, in 1944, he was drafted to fight in World War II, shipped to the European front just after the horrendous Battle of the Bulge. However, thanks to the GI Bill, Bennett was able to continue his studies after the war. 


Bennett joined the American Theatre Wing, where he learned Italian "bel canto" vocalese and jazz scatting. In quick succession, he was discovered by Pearl Bailey, then toured with Bob Hope, and was signed to Columbia Records under the guidance of Mitch Miller. Advised by Miller not to follow in the footsteps of crooner Frank Sinatra, who had fallen out of favor, Bennett adopted a straight pop approach, scoring first with Miller's offering, "Because Of You," then with a version of Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart" that first brought the nation's attention to the pop possibilities of country music.

Later Years

Though Tony, like Sinatra, lost some popularity due to rock, he responded in the same way—by catering to the new, mature "Adult contemporary" market. A 1962 concert at Carnegie Hall, staged by Sid Bernstein, coupled with the signature of his new style, the song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," put him back on top. As that market dried up in the late Seventies, Bennett, by then fighting a cocaine addiction, faltered; but after kicking the habit he engineered yet another amazing comeback in the late 80s and early 90s, appealing to hipsters who appreciated his smooth jazz vocal stylings.

#1 Tony Bennett Hits

"Because Of You" (1951)
"Cold, Cold Heart" (1951)
"Rags To Riches" (1953)

Top 10 Tony Bennett Hits

"Stranger In Paradise" (1953)
"There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight" (1954)
"Cinnamon Sinner" (1954)
"In The Middle Of An Island" (1957)

Adult Contemporary:
"I Left My Heart In San Francisco" (1962)
"I Wanna Be Around" (1963)
"The Good Life" (1963)
"Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)" (1964)
"If I Ruled The World" (1964)
"The Shadow Of Your Smile" (1964)
"Song From The Oscar" (1966)
"Georgia Rose" (1966)
"A Time For Love" (1966)
"What Makes It Happen" (1967)
"For Once In My Life" (1967)
"Yesterday I Heard The Rain" (1968)

#1 Tony Bennett Albums

Perfectly Frank (1992)
Steppin' Out (1993)
MTV Unplugged (1994)
Here's To The Ladies (1995)
On Holiday (1997)
Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool (1999)
A Wonderful World (2003)
A Swingin' Christmas (2008)

Top 10 Tony Bennett Albums

I Left My Heart In San Francisco (1962)
I Wanna Be Around (1968)
Snowfall/The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (1968)
Duets: An American Classic (2006)

The Ultimate Tony Bennett (2000)
Playin' with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues (2001)
Tony Bennett Sings The Ultimate American Songbook Vol. 1 (2007)
Tony Bennett (2008)
The Complete Recordings (2009)

Awards and Honors

  • Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame (1997)
  • Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor (2005)
  • GRAMMY Awards (1963, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007)
  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1982, 1984, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008)
  • Emmy Awards (1996, 2007)
  • ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award (2002)
  • Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006)
  • National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award (2006)
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame (1560 Vine St.)


Facts and Trivia 

  • Once worked as a copy boy for the Associated Press
  • Was the first pop vocalist to sing with Count Basie's band
  • A champion of civil rights, he participated in the famous 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, AL
  • Tony's son, Danny, guided his finances and career back to health in the late Eighties
  • Is a respected painter whose works are visible in the Smithsonian Art Museum, among other places
  • Bennett usually sings one song away from the microphone in concert, so as to demonstrate the abilities of the "bel canto" styles
  • "San Francisco," his signature song, was actually written by a gay couple

Covered by: 

Bobby Vinton, The Dominoes, Barry Manilow, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Dinah Washington, The Bonzo Dog Band, Percy Faith, Saint Etienne, The Four Freshmen, Judy Garland, The Four Tops, Jack Jones, Gene Pitney, Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, Charlie Byrd, Ace Cannon, Hank Crawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin, Duke Ellington, Jan and Dean, Willis "Gator" Jackson,

Movie appearances: 

"The Oscar" (1966)

Other important Tony Bennett songs:

"Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," "Blue Velvet," "While The Music Plays On," "May I Never Love Again," "Sing You Sinners," "Just In Time," "Lazy Afternoon," "Ca, C'est l'Amour," "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "It Amazes Me," "Penthouse Serenade (When We're Alone)," "Lost In The Stars," "Lullaby Of Broadway," "Firefly," "Sleepin' Bee," "Man That Got Away," "Skylark," "Till," "Put On A Happy Face," "The Best Is Yet To Come," "This Time The Dream's On Me," "Close Your Eyes," "Stella By Starlight," "Tender Is The Night," "Once Upon A Time," "Until I Met You," "If I Love Again," "It Was Me," "Spring In Manhattan," "Moment Of Truth," "This Is All I Ask," "When Joanna Loved Me," "I'll Be Around," "Nobody Else But Me," "I've Got Just About Everything," "I Walk A Little Faster," "Fly Me To The Moon," "Love Scene," "Sweet Lorraine," "I'll Only Miss Her When I Think Of Her," "Baby, Dream Your Dream," "Smile," "Maybe September," "Emily," "The Very Thought Of You," "Time For Love," "Keep Smiling At Trouble (Trouble's A Bubble)" "Who Cares?," "I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You," "Old Devil Moon," "Maybe This Time," "But Beautiful," "Antonia," "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "They Can't Take That Away From Me"