Tony Bennett: Still sexy at 90

Tony Bennett: Still sexy at 90
Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The good life, seems to be part of Tony Bennett’s genes. Once again after 47 years of performances at Ravania Festival, the legendary singer brought the packed house to its feet with his contagious charm and classic songs.

His vocal prowess perfectly in tact. His energy belying his years. And his vocal projection–that some attribute to the bel canto singing discipline he embraced early in his career–in a word amazing.

Although Bennett has yet to appear at Lolla, the man has performed for audiences around the world including 11 US Presidents.

Saturday night he bestowed the ultimate compliment on Ravinia calling it “the most wonderful venue in the United States”–and he ought to know.


Photo: Chicago Tribune

Bennett’s rags to riches story began in Astoria, Queens when the then named Anthony Benedetto came into the world on August 3, 1926 as the son of  grocer John Benedetto and seamstress Anna Suraci. The youngest of three children, Anthony’s father died when he was 10 and the family was forced to grow up in poverty.

Dropping out of school at age 16 to help support his family, Anthony worked as a copy boy and runner for the Associated Press in Manhattan along with several other low-pay jobs. But he always dreamed of singing professionally, even working a stint as a singing waiter.

His big break came in 1949, when he opened for Pearl Bailey in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope was at the show and was so impressed with Benedetto that Hope invited him to join him on the road and was also the man responsible for simplifying his name to Tony Bennett.

Throughout the years Tony performed and charted new albums in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and the first two decades of the 21st century. He’s had his ups, his downs but has always managed to reinvent himself. Thanks, in part, to his son Danny Bennett who was instrumental in creating a younger hipper image for Tony starting in the early 1990’s by booking him on shows including Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Simpsons the Muppets and MTV.

Photo: Russell Jenkins, Ravinia

Tony Bennett at Ravinia. Photo: Russell Jenkins

Bennett, backed by his quartet of talented musicians—all powerhouse performers on their own—former Count Baise drummer, the charismatic Harold Jones, Michael Renzi on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar and Marshall Wood on bass—rolled out his repertoire of classic songs–hardly skipping a beat.

One after another, he entertained the audience with fan favorites and Grammy winning songs including “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Sing You Sinners,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Rages to Riches,” “Just in Time,” “Chicago,” and others.

Giving a shout-out to Lady Gaga, who he performed with last year at Ravinia Festival, Tony asked the audience to buy her new album–because, he joked, “she needs the money.”


Photo: Chicago Tribune

The grand finale seemed to be a surprise to Bennett and much of the audience when a 100-lb birthday cake (baked by Highwood’s Bent Fork bakery) was rolled out on stage and the crowd joined in unison to sing Happy Birthday–too bad, for those who hurried out to catch a train or avoid traffic thinking the show was over–you missed the best part.

Bennett seemed truly touched coming back on stage for several more encores after that–both conversational and vocal.

Tony may or may not have left his heart in San Francisco but he definitely showed a lot of heart for Chicago at his Ravinia performance crying out to the crowd “I Love You, Chicago.”

We love you back, Tony.

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