#RespectYourElders: Tony Bennett, 93, is a legendary American singer. Throughout his nearly seven-decade-long career, Bennett has won 18 Grammy Awards and two Emmy awards, and has sold over 50 million records worldwide.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in 1926, Bennett grew up in the Queens borough of New York City during the Great Depression. His father, who was a grocer, died when Bennett was just ten years old, leaving his mother, a seamstress, to take care of Bennett and his two older siblings.
He pursued music and painting at the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, but dropped out at the age of 16 to support his family. Bennett became a singing waiter at an Italian restaurant before being drafted in the Army during World War II.
In 1945, Bennett was deployed to Germany and served as an infantryman and a member of the marching band. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp in Bavaria.
After the war, Bennett returned to New York and, in 1949, got his big break. Comedian Bob Hope noticed him performing in Greenwich Village and, after his performance, asked for his name. Bennett responded with his full name but Pope thought it was too long, replying, “We’ll call you Tony Bennett.” The name stuck, and a star was born.
In 1951 Bennett released his first hit, “Because of You,” and his popularity skyrocketed, as it would continue to do throughout the next decade. He won his first Grammy in 1962 for Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance for his well-known hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Frank Sinatra once said, “For my money, Tony Bennett was the best singer that I ever heard.”
Bennett is more than just a singer; he’s been an activist throughout his entire life. He marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma to support the civil rights movement. He’s an outspoken ally of equality, pacifism and humanitarian issues. He received the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees Humanitarian Award and was an inductee into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.
Even a singer and activist as successful as Bennett has faced challenging times. In the ’70s, Bennett’s popularity dropped and he battled financial problems. His son, Danny, became his manager and by the mid-’80s Bennett rose to prominence again after resigning with Columbia Records. Bennett hasn’t looked back since then and continues to perform at the age of 93, including a recent performance at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival in June 2019.
“I have grown to appreciate the power of believing in myself and of always having faith in myself,” Bennett said. “I rarely look back; instead, I always look forward. There is so much of life that we miss when we wallow in regret.”