Today, Tony Bennett will be publicly receive the Gershwin Prize in Popular Song. It is granted annually by the Library of Congress. He is 91 years old.
The previous winners were Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, song writing team Burt Bacharach and the Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, and Smokey Robinson. Here is what is unique about Bennett: the previous winners got their breakthroughs in the mid-1960’s or the 1970’s. Bennett got his in 1951. He has never looked back.
He is a pure singer. These stylists used to be called crooners. We still remember them: Bing Crosby and the Italians – Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Frankie Laine, and Dean Martin – plus Nat “King” Cole. But what makes Bennett truly unique is that his popularity survived the tsunami of rock and roll, which hit the general teen culture in 1954. His first gold record, “Because of You,” was released in 1951. His first album was released in 1952. Since then, he has never slowed down. In the Wikipedia entry on “Tony Bennett Discography,” we read: “The discography of American traditional pop and jazz singer Tony Bennett consists of 57 studio albums, eleven live albums, thirty-one compilation albums, three video albums, one extended play and 81 singles.” The Library of Congress summarizes:
No one in American popular music has recorded for so long and at such a high level of excellence as Tony Bennett. In the last 10 years alone, he has sold 10 million records. Bennett has received 19 Grammy Awards, including a 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award and a 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year for his “MTV Unplugged,” which introduced him to a whole new generation. Later, his 2006 “Duets: An American Classic” was released, featuring performances with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bono and others, winning three Grammy Awards and going on to be one of the best-selling CDs of the year and of Bennett’s career. The follow-up, the 2011 “Duets II,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts, making Bennett the oldest artist—at the age of 85—to achieve this in the history of recorded music. He broke this record three years later with his 2014 collaboration with Lady Gaga, “Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek,” which also debuted at No. 1 when he was 88.His initial successes came via a string of Columbia singles in the early 1950s, including such chart-toppers as “Because of You,” “Rags to Riches” and a remake of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” He has had 24 songs in the Top 40, including “I Wanna Be Around,” “The Good Life,” “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” and his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” which garnered two Grammy Awards.