Legendary singer Tony Bennett has died after a long-time battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 96. According to Variety, the iconic crooner passed away on Friday, July 21, in New York City.
Despite his illness, Bennett continued performing in later years, officially retiring in November 2021 with two final shows at Radio City Music Hall with Lady Gaga.
Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926, in Queens, New York, Bennett built an illustrious music career performing traditional pop standards, big band, show tunes, and jazz. He earned 41 Grammy nominations in his lifetime, winning 19 of them — the most recent being for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Love For Sale, his second jazz record with Lady Gaga. The first, Cheek to Cheek, also won the same category in 2015.
Bennett’s first album, Because of You, debuted in 1952, seven years before the first Grammy Awards. He released 13 more before the 1962 album I Left My Heart in San Francisco earned him his first Grammy wins in 1963. The album was nominated for Album of the Year. The title track won Record of the Year and Best Solo Vocal Performance, Male. Bennett was nominated again for the 6th, 7th, and 8th Grammy Awards, but wasn’t again until the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards in 1991.
He won Album of the Year for the first time in 1995 for his live-recorded album MTV Unplugged. Love For Sale, his last-ever album, was nominated for Album of the Year in 2021. Across his 70-year career, he put out 61 studio albums, 11 live albums, 33 compilation albums, three video albums, one extended play, and 83 singles.
Bennett was married to Patricia Beech from 1952 to 1971 and actress Sandra Grant Bennett from 1971 to 1984. He married Susan Crow in 2007, whom he remained married to until his death. Bennett had two children with Beech, Danny Bennett and Dae Bennett, and two more with Grant, Joanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett.
Long before his career began, Bennett was drafted into the Army in 1944 during the tail end of World War II. His experiences in military service served as a catalyst for his music career. In his 2007 biography The Good Life, Bennett wrote, “the biggest shock was the level of bigotry I encountered as soon as I arrived” to Army training.
Just 18 years old at the time, Bennett was assigned to the Seventh Army, 63rd Infantry Division, also known as the “Blood and Fire” Division, which fought on the front lines in France and Germany. Bennett’s 255th Regiment ended up capturing a slew of Nazi soldiers and freeing prisoners in a concentration camp near Dachau. His team also liberated 63rd Division Soldiers who had been taken to Landsberg, about 30 miles away from the Dachau concentration camp.
“After seeing such horrors with my very eyes, it angers me that some people insist there were no concentration camps,” Bennett wrote in The Good Life. Bennett had an intolerance for bigotry and spoke out against it his whole life. The singer was once demoted after accosting a commanding officer who told a Black man in the regiment (a friend of Bennett’s also from New York) to eat in the kitchen and not among the white men in the mess hall.
In 1949, he auditioned to sing for jazz singer Pearl Bailey, which was his big break. Later on, he got involved in Civil Rights advocacy, marching alongside Harry Belafonte from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Martin Luther King in March 1965.
Tributes are pouring in for the late, beloved singer.
Tony Bennett has passed away at the age of 96. An incredible life. Rest in peace… pic.twitter.com/v7nxcXYQ4A
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) July 21, 2023
Rest in Peace, Mr. Tony Bennett. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world 💔 pic.twitter.com/hp7QoJYm1X
— Gaga Daily (@gagadaily) July 21, 2023
The great Tony Bennett has passed away at the age of 96. He was the last of his kind, a master of the American songbook. He may have left his Heart in San Francisco, but he won all of our hearts, from Sinatra to Lady Gaga. Be at peace, and sing to us now from the stars, Tony.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 21, 2023