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At 80, Tony Bennett Shows No Signs of Slowing Down


Singer Tony Bennett has been entertaining audiences for more than 60 years. Perhaps no other artist is more deserving of the title "America's Greatest Living Song Stylist." August 3 marks Bennett's 80th birthday, and as VOA's Doug Levine tells us, he has no intention of slowing down.

Tony Bennett, who recorded "The Best Is Yet To Come" more than 45 years ago, might be the first to ask, "Where did the time go?"

It seems like only yesterday when Bennett sang on the very first television broadcasts of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Merv Griffin Show. The years have rolled by since singing with the U.S. Army military band under the name Joe Bari in 1945.

It wouldn't be the first time Tony Bennett changed his name for the stage. Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in New York, Tony listened to the great pop and jazz artists of the day: Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. He studied music and painting in high school, but dropped out to help support his family. After World War II, he pursued a singing career and landed a spot on tour with Bob Hope. It was Hope who suggested he change his name to Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett had a string of hits on Columbia Records, earning top billing with "Because Of You," "In The Middle Of An Island," "The Autumn Waltz," and his signature song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." It was one of the biggest pop hits of 1962, and garnered two Grammy Awards. Today it's ranked as one of the most historically significant recordings of the 20th century.

With The Beatles and the British invasion came less and less work for pop crooners and jazz stars. Tony Bennett's career wavered for the better part of 20 years before he staged one of the greatest comebacks of all time. Resigned to Columbia in 1986, he hit the chart for the first time in 14 years with his album The Art Of Excellence. Coinciding with the revival of the Great American Songbook was the release of his 1994 live album MTV Unplugged. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and helped introduce Bennett to a new generation of fans.

The past 10 years have been played to near perfection, and Tony Bennett wouldn't want it any other way. He's continued to record almost an album a year, tours frequently, and when there's time, he turns to his other love, painting. His works have been exhibited in numerous galleries around the world and many are published in his art book "Tony Bennett: What My Heart Has Seen."

In honor of Bennett's 80th birthday, Sony Records plans to release a new album of duets in late-September. In addition, U.S. television will air an hour-long tribute, "Tony Bennett: An American Classic," featuring performances by Elton John, Stevie Wonder and K.D. Lang.