Tony Bennett, the eminent and timeless stylist whose devotion to classic American songs and knack for creating new standards such as “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” graced a decadeslong career that brought him admirers from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, died Friday. He was 96, just two weeks short of his birthday.
Publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed Bennett’s death to The Associated Press, saying he died in his hometown of New York. There was no specific cause, but Bennett had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.
Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926, in Astoria, Queens, New York. Coming of age during the Great Depression, he experienced more difficulty at age 10, when his father passed away.
Bennett attended the High School of Industrial Arts in New York City, but he dropped out to help the family finances and worked as a singing waiter. After serving in the Army infantry during World War II, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and studied singing at the American Theatre Wing. During this period, his vocal coach Mimi Spear offered some advice that he took to heart: Don’t imitate other singers; emulate instrumentalists instead.
His father, Giovanni “John” Benedetto, was a grocer, his mother, Anna Maria (Suraci), was a seamstress, and his uncle was a tap dancer. His parents were both from poor farming families in Calabria, Italy.