Tony Bennett's Good Life

Written By: Sugar Ray Lamere

07-03-2010

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He's that KID from Astoria, who left his heart in San Francisco, who not only bridged the generation gap, he shattered it. He has become the coolist pop-culture icon for todays younger listeners while still beloved by their parents and grandparents.  He's Tony Bennett, the man who Frank Sinatra called "The best singer in the business".

He was born Anthony Dominic Benedetto on August 2, 1926. He has had a life-long love affair with art, music and performing. He's equally at home singing with Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, K.D. Lang, Peggy Lee or Elvis Costello.  He began as a singing waiter in depression-era Queens, where Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong and opera music flowed freely.  At eighteen he was drafted and served as a combat Infantry man in the Seventh Army.  In August 1946 he was discharged and began soaking up the New York jazz scene, and he was determined to do whatever it took to become a professional singer.  He pounded the pavement of New York City singing for any booking agent or club owner who would listen.  One of his earliest gigs was at a club in Paramus, NJ. called the Picadilly Club.  He got $15 and it was the first time he used the name Joe Bari.  He was very nervous, but Earle Warren the band leader at the Picadily had been a sax player and singer with Count Basie.  It was Earle Warren calmed this very nervous young man.

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Then came a spot on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Show.  He appeared on that show with another singer by the name of Rosemary Clooney, and they've been great friends ever since.  About that time Bob Hope heard him sing and said "come on kid, you're coming over to the Paramount and sing with me."  Bob Hope asked him his name because he didn't like Joe Bari and he said Anthony Benedetto. "No, no, too long for the marque" he said.  "We'll call you Tony Bennet!"

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Along came Mitch Miller, who had made stars of Rosemary Clooney and Guy Mitchell.  In the Spring of 1951 he had Tony record "Because of You."  It stayed on the charts for 32 weeks, ten of those weeks at #1.  Then came more hits, Cold, Cold, Heart, Rags to Riches, and Blue Velvet.  In the Spring of 1961, Tony Bennett and his pianist Ralph Sharon were headed for the Fairmont Hotel in SanFrancisco, when Ralph saw a batch of songs that someone had given him two years earlier.  Among them was a song called "I Left My Heart In San Francisco."  They put it in their show at the Fairmont and in January 1962, they recorded it.  It became his signature song.  Then he went to Hollywood to appear in a film "The Oscar" with Stephen Boyd, Elke Sommer, Milton Berle, Joseph Colton and Ernest Borgnine.  He got offers to make more films, but his heart wasn't in it he wanted to perform.

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In 1995 the Grammy nominations had been announced and Tony Bennett Unplugged had been nominated for album of the year.  At the awards, they opened the envelope and Tony was the winner.  There he was at the top of his game at 68 and being recognized by his peers.  He had accomplished this without compromising his music.  This August he will celebrate his 83rd birthday.

These days, he spends as much time as he can with his wife and his children and his grandchildren.  He never lived extravagently, never wanted yachts or fancy cars.  Most of his life he lived simply.  He is an accomplished painter, accepted in the art world by critics and fans alike.

Tony Bennett always sang good songs by the greatest composers.  The Grammy is a positive example of what can be achieved by sticking to your guns.  It's a lesson that all singers should learn.  "Don't make your music fit the marketing, but the other way around."

Sugar Ray Lamere has toured the globe from Maine to the French Riviera. He has worked with Tommy Tucker, Bobby Sherwood, The Meyer Davis Orchestra, Sande Williams and many others.  Ray is truly a swinger and an expert in the subject of Big Band/Swing Music and entertainers of that era.  He hosted a radio show for WMVI and WMHT called Saturday Night Swing. You can see more of Ray's work on his YouTube Account: 

http://www.youtube.com/user/SugarRayLamere