Great Performances Has Tony Bennett: Duets II

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

What can you say about a legend? If it’s Tony Bennett, you can say he’s a 15-time Grammy winner; a Kennedy Center honoree; he’s a visual artist who has three original paintings in the Smithsonian Institution; and he founded a New York City public arts high school that he named after his friend Frank Sinatra. It’s well-known that Bennett was Sinatra’s favorite singer.

What else can you say about the son of a grocer and Italian-born immigrant? Anthony Benedetto was born in the Astoria section of Queens, New York. Tony marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, and has been honored by the United Nations for his humanitarian efforts. And last August he celebrated his 85th birthday by releasing his Duets II recording, which made history by debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, making Tony the oldest artist to ever achieve the top position.

That’s why David Horn, the producer of PBS’ Great Performances, was thrilled to feature him in his own special Tony Bennett: Duets II, premiering Jan. 27. Horn said, “A song never had a better duet partner than Tony Bennett,” as he introduced the legendary crooner to a gathering of TV writers for a great concert at Pasadena’s Langham Hotel to promote the show.

Bennett was in fine voice backed by a great four-piece band as they did the best classic tunes, including “The Way You Look Tonight,” “To The Good Life,” “For Once In My Life,” “Maybe This Time,” “The Best Is Yet To Come,” and, of course, his signature song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” He moved around the stage with ease and continued to impress during his Q&A session with the press. He talked about working on the Duets II album and TV special with some of today’s most celebrated artists including Lady Gaga, Michael Buble, Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, Queen Latifah, and the late Amy Winehouse.

Bennett said, “You know, you meet performers and then all of a sudden you meet someone like Lady Gaga that has a touch of genius. She’s highly intelligent, highly creative. She knows so much about performing, and she sings magnificent.” Tony and Gaga do “The Lady Is a Tramp” as their duet.

Bennett’s thoughts on why his career has lasted so long go all the way back to his roots. He said, “I had a great Italian American family, in the grocery business during the Depression and we were all very poor; a lot worse than it is today. My father died when I was ten. My mom had to work on a penny a dress to raise three children. And my brother and sister and I would entertain my family when they would all come over on a Sunday, trying to make my mom feel good. I remember at a very early age, they said to me, ‘Look at the way he makes us feel good, and he’s so happy. And look at the way he paints flowers and all that.’ I remember very clearly saying, ‘This is who I am.’ My family is telling me that I sing and I paint. They created a tremendous gift in my life to continue that, and each year it’s become stronger and stronger. I will never retire, and if my voice goes, I’m still going to paint.”

He’s lasted almost seven decades in the business and he’s still going strong, with no desire to retire. “I just want to keep improving as I go on. What a beautiful life it is,” Bennett said with a big smile on his face. “I love what I’m doing.”