Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s brand-new album Love For Sale, a collection of Cole Porter duets, offers fresh evidence that the 95-year-old crooner remains a vocal marvel, delivering his signature charm and sincerity across tunes from the romantic “Night and Day” to the swinging “Just One of Those Things.”
“You can’t get a better composer than Cole Porter,” Bennett says of his 61st studio album. “And there is no one better to sing with than Lady Gaga.”
Tony Bennett has never been more relevant. He and the pop star are teaming for a trio of specials in upcoming months. One Last Time: An Evening with Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett, airing Nov. 28 on CBS, cherry-picks two New York shows in August that marked Bennett’s 95th birthday. MTV Unplugged: Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, taped before a small studio audience and airing later this winter, showcases Love For Sale selections. A documentary, The Lady and the Legend, chronicling their friendship and musical partnership, will stream on Paramount+ in 2022. And the American Ballet Theater’s ZigZag production in October celebrates Bennett’s career using his songs and artwork.
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Yet 82 years after he started out as a singing waiter in Queens, Bennett is finally slowing down. Love For Sale is his final studio album, and the recent sellouts at Radio City Music Hall were farewell concerts. On doctor’s orders, he will no longer take the stage.
In February, Bennett’s family shared the news with AARP that he had been diagnosed with dementia in 2016. Going forward, fans may see less of Bennett in the public spotlight. That doesn’t mean this American Songbook superhero will fade from public memory. Here are the top eight reasons Tony Bennett will never leave our hearts.
He’s the singer’s singer
With a smooth tenor, unmatched interpretive skills, masterful phrasing and a command of genres from swing and jazz to contemporary pop and show tunes, Bennett became the ultimate singer’s singer. Bing Crosby dubbed him “the best singer I’ve ever heard,” and Frank Sinatra said, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. [He] gets across what the composer had in mind, and probably a little more.”
He became a true patriarch
With his talent, grace and experience, Bennett schooled his celebrity duet partners. Sting, who sang “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with Bennett on 2006’s Duets, told AARP earlier this year, “When I sing with Tony Bennett, I am singing opposite the great master of phrasing. I’m just so happy to be learning from him.” And contemporary jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall, who recorded 2018 Gershwin tribute album Love Is Here to Stay with Bennett, gushed, “When you get the chance to work with people like Tony Bennett, who were and continue to be part of creating a unique style and art form, you thrill at the chance. You carefully listen, watch, learn and experience how it feels to be so close to that person singing next to you. That voice you have known since you were born. You get all overwhelmed, excited and dizzy like your springs are all going to pop, and then you take a deep breath, step back and just sing and love every minute of it.”
He got more hip with every decade
Sinatra disdained rock music but recorded a handful of contemporary songs in hopes of modernizing his sound. Bennett managed to win over Gen X without ever compromising his sound or wearing flannel. His 2006 and 2011 duets albums paired him with such pop icons as Bono, Elvis Costello and Amy Winehouse, all eager to sing standards with the jazz giant. An essay by Bob Guccione Jr., publisher of alt-rock magazine Spin, declared James Brown and Bennett the greatest influences on rock.
His career longevity is breathtaking
Bennett recorded with jazz pioneers Stan Getz, Art Blakey and Count Basie, and now he and Lady Gaga are cheek to cheek at the microphone. He racked up his first No. 1 song at age 24 in 1951 with “Because of You” and his first No. 1 album in 2011 with Duets II. In 2014, he became the oldest performer (88 years, 69 days) to score a No. 1 album, his Cheek to Cheek standards set with Lady Gaga. He has three Guinness World Records, one for the longest span between the release and re-release of the same single by the same artist. He issued Gershwin classic “Fascinating Rhythm” in 1949 and reprised it in 2018, 68 years and 342 days later. In between all those milestones? Bennett never stopped recording or performing. He leaves the stage with 20 Grammys and sales of 50 million records.
He’s remarkably humble
Bennett has always expressed amazement at his own success and lavished praise on his peers and influences. He thanked Count Basie for teaching him how to perform and said no one will ever sound as good as Judy Garland. Big-shot donors yearn to see their names on buildings. Not this guy. In 1999, he and wife Susan founded Exploring the Arts to beef up arts in public schools. ETA’s first project was establishing a high school for fine art, music, dance, drama and film in Bennett’s hometown of Astoria, Queens. The name: the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.
He’s a committed visual artist
Many singers dabble at painting. Bennett’s a pro. Anthony Benedetto (he uses his real name in the fine art world) has been a painter and museum addict since childhood. He’s professionally trained, displays his oils and watercolors in galleries around the globe and is respected in art circles. The United Nations commissioned two Benedetto originals. His Homage to Hockney is in the Butler Institute of American Art, and his Boy on Sailboat, Sydney Bay hangs in New York’s National Arts Club. Three Bennett paintings, including a Duke Ellington portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, are in the Smithsonian Museums' permanent collections.
He’s a WWII veteran and a pacifist
Drafted into the U.S. Army at 18, Bennett put his musical ambitions on hold to serve in World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped liberate a concentration camp in Landsberg, Germany. The carnage and atrocities he witnessed made him realize that “I am completely opposed to war,” he wrote in his memoir, The Good Life. “Every war is insane, no matter where it is or what it’s about. Fighting is the lowest form of human behavior. It’s amazing to me that with all the great teachers of literature and art, and all the contributions that have been made on this very precious planet, we still haven’t evolved a more humane approach to the way we work out our conflicts.”
He’s a style icon
Debonair and genteel, Bennett has been a paragon of class and sophistication on stage and off. He is most often seen in tailored suits by Italian designer Brioni and Bally leather loafers. He arrived in a spotless dapper suit before a mud-covered audience at 1998’s rain-soaked Glastonbury Festival in England after the crew constructed a walkway of hay bales to the stage. And when the singer was shaken awake in the swank Peninsula Hotel during the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake, he didn’t rush to the lobby as ordered over the intercom. Lamps toppled and the TV fell out of the cabinet, but Bennett calmly dressed, in his usual impeccable suit, and arrived downstairs to find disheveled celebrity guests wearing hotel robes. A Hollywood writer approached Bennett and asked, “You got dressed up?” Bennett responded, “But of course.”
Edna Gundersen, a regular AARP music critic, was the longtime pop critic for USA Today.