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21 July 2023

US singer Tony Bennett dies aged 96

21 July 2023

American crooner and jazz singer Tony Bennett has died at the age of 96.

Bennett became the torchbearer for the Great American Songbook over his seven-decade career, best known for his 1962 classic I Left My Heart In San Francisco which was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1994.

On Friday, publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett’s death saying he died in his hometown of New York.

The statement said: “The beloved singer, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, is survived by his wife, Susan Benedetto, his two sons, Danny and Dae Bennett, his daughters Johanna Bennett and Antonia Bennett and nine grandchildren.”

It added: “In later life, when Tony Bennett was asked in interviews how he wanted to be remembered he would often say, ‘As a nice person’.”

Among those paying tribute was former US first lady Hillary Clinton who described Bennett as a “true talent, a true gentleman, and a true friend”. She tweeted: “We’ll miss you, Tony, and thanks for all the memories.”

Meanwhile Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers tweeted: “My most heartfelt condolences go out to Tony Bennett’s family and friends. They’re also my emotional family and friends.”

The timeless singer was famed as one of the last of the great saloon singers of the mid-20th century, releasing more than 70 albums during his career which won him a host of Grammys.

His devotion to timeless classics such as The Way You Look Tonight and Body And Soul created a hit catalogue, but it was also his performances with singers including Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga that won him plaudits.

At the age of 88, Bennett broke his own record as the oldest living performer with a number one album on the US Billboard 200 chart for his duet project with Gaga titled Cheek To Cheek.

He had topped the charts three years earlier with Duets II, featuring stars Gaga, Carrie Underwood and Winehouse, in her last studio recording.

His rapport with Winehouse was captured in the Oscar-nominated documentary Amy, which showed Bennett encouraging the insecure young singer through a performance of Body And Soul.

The Amy Winehouse Foundation tweeted: “Today marks the end of an era, as we say farewell to Tony Bennett. A true star, a true gentleman and a wonderful friend and mentor to Amy. Thank you for the music Tony.”

Bennett’s final album in 2021 titled Love For Sale, featured duets with Gaga on the title track, Night And Day and other Cole Porter songs, and won him his last Grammy award.

The crooner moved easily between pop and jazz, and his collaborations were part of his push to expose new audiences to what he called the Great American Songbook.

He retired from performing in 2021 after revealing he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016.

Hilda Hayo, Dementia UK’s chief admiral nurse and chief executive, said in a statement: “We’re sorry to hear that Tony Bennett has died having lived with Alzheimer’s for several years, and send our condolences to him and his family.

“Since revealing his diagnosis, Tony and his family have raised a huge amount of awareness for the condition, sharing the impact it has on families and also that it is possible to continue working and being creative following a diagnosis.

“Through sharing their personal experiences I am certain they will have helped many others seek the support they need for this condition. We hope his family are receiving the support they need at this difficult time.”

Bennett was born in Queens, New York, in 1926, the grandson of immigrants from the impoverished Italian province of Calabria.

He enjoyed a glorious career since first finding success in the 1950s, performing traditional pop standards and big band music.

Bennett’s breakthrough came in 1951 with his first number one Because Of You, and his success continued throughout the decade with hits including Blue Velvet and Rags To Riches.

In 1962, his version of I Left My Heart In San Francisco rocketed him to international stardom, winning his first two Grammys.

In 2006, he collaborated with stars including Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Stevie Wonder and George Michael on his album titled Duets: An American Classic.

Posting a picture of the pair on Instagram, Sir Elton said: “So sad to hear of Tony’s passing. Without doubt the classiest singer, man, and performer you will ever see. He’s irreplaceable. I loved and adored him.”

Bennett became a life-long pacifist and humanitarian after serving as a foot soldier in the Second World War.

Having painted for most of his life, Bennett co-founded non-profit organisation Exploring The Arts, dedicated to strengthening the role of the arts in public high school education.

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