Sunday, July 23, 2023

Tony Bennett - "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams"

If you've wondered what Tony Bennett's first hit was, this is it.

He was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto (the late British humor magazine Punch did a fake Italian to English phrasebook in which both Basso Profundo and Tempo Rubato were translated as "Tony Bennett's real name") in Long Island City, Queens, on August 3, 1926 to Giovanni and Anna Benedetto, who both came from Calabria, in southern Italy. Giovanni (later John) arrived as an immigrant at age 11. Anna was a native born Amrican, having arrived in the womb. 

Despite his most remembered song being "I Left My Heart in San Francisco", Tony Bennett was devoted to his native New York. At the age of ten his music teacher arranged for him to sing with Mayor Fiorello La Guardia at the opening of the Triborough (now Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge.  Later, he began to get paying gigs, but his budding career was interrupted when he was drafted, He served in the Army in Germany, was involved in combat in the late days of the war, and was among the troops who liberated the Landsberg concentration camp.

Back in New York after the war, he began to get work as a singer in night clubs, using the stage name Joe Bari, a name he took from a port city in southern Italy. He was working at a club in Greenwich Village when the owner offered to make Pearl Bailey his headline act. She agreed, but only if he kept Joe Bari as her opening act. One night Bob Hope (I've given a link to Bob Hope on the optimistic theory that I might have one or two Gen Z readers who have never heard of him, even from their Gen X parents) was there to hear Ms. Bailey, and ws so impressed by Joe Bari that he offered to make him the opener for his show at the Paramount Theater. The conditon was a change of name; Mr. Hope didn't like the name Joe Bari. After a bit of rumination on "Anthony Benedetto," he came up with "Tony Bennett," 

At this point I could write, "The rest is history," but I want to mention a couple of perhaps lesser known facts about Tony Bennett's life. The first is his committment to the struggle for civil rights for Black people, perhaps springing in part from his friendly relationship with Ms. Bailey, and also with Harry Belafonte. He joined the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama civil rights march in 1965 and sang with many other stars at a rally near the end of the march.

The other relates back to his love for New York, as well as for children and for the arts. He and his wife provided the funds to establish a high school for the arts in New York City. In a typical gesture of humility, they insisted that it be named for his friend, Frank Sinatra.

Perhaps the best summing up of Tony Bennett's personality is this passage from his New York Times obituary, linked above, that quotes Simon Hattenstone in the Guardian
“He mythologizes himself, name-drops every time he opens his mouth, directs you to his altruism, is self-congratulatory to the point of indecency. He should be intolerable, but he’s one of the sweetest, most humble men I’ve ever met.”