- 1926-08-03 -
Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born in Queens to Italian parents. He grew up poor and began singing for money in restaurants at age 13. He briefly attended New York's School of Industrial Art, learning painting and music, but dropped out at age 16 to work and support his family. Bennett was drafted into the US Army in late 1944 and was part of the military force that pushed the German army out of France and back into their homeland. He remained briefly as part of the occupying force after the end of the war, and was assigned to sing with a special services band entertaining American forces. He returned to the US in 1946 and studied at the American Theatre Wing. It was during this period that he developed the technique of imitating the style and phrasing of other artists that helped him learn to improvise while performing.
In 1949, Bennett was invited by singer Pearl Bailey to open for one of her shows. Bob Hope attended the performance and hired Bennett to perform with him on his tours. Bennett signed with Columbia Records the next year, and recorded his first hit "Because of You" a year after that. For the rest of the 1950s he continued to be a certifiable hit. In August 1956 he hosted a temporary television variety show, "The Tony Bennett Show," in Perry Como's NBC slot as part of a summer show series that also featured Patti Page and Julius La Rosa. Bennett would do so again in 1959.
Despite the arrival of rock'n'roll, Bennett continued to release a steady stream of popular and jazz albums and remained a highly popular nightclub performer. In 1962, he sang as part of the initial broadcast of the "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and recorded one of his most famous songs, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco". Unfortunately, however, the 1970s were not kind to Bennett. Attempts to get into acting, recording more contemporary songs, and even starting his own record label all failed; by 1979 Bennett was rarely performing outside of Las Vegas clubs, was all but bankrupt, and had developed a drug addiction. He turned to his adult children for help, and his oldest son Danny became his manager.
In the late 1980s and into the '90s, Bennett worked to reintroduce his music to a new generation of listeners back in New York City. He recorded several successful themed albums and even appeared on MTV in 1994. He continued to tour and record well into his 80s.