NBC is celebrating the 90th birthday of American music icon Tony Bennett with a two-hour special, Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come, airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Filmed at New York’s Radio City Music Hall last September, the program is hosted by Alec Baldwin, impersonating Bennett rather than Donald Trump. It includes performances by Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bublé, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel, Elton John, Diana Krall, k.d. lang, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kevin Spacey, Stevie Wonder, Rufus Wainwright and Bennett himself. It also features appearances by Garth Brooks, Steve Buscemi, Robert De Niro, Celine Dion, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Madonna, Wynton Marsalis, Paul McCartney, John McEnroe, Miss Piggy, Regis Philbin, Keith Richards, Don Rickles, Homer Simpson, Carrie Underwood, Bruce Willis, Oprah Winfrey and Trisha Yearwood.
At a program at the Paley Center for Media in New York last week, Danny Bennett, the singer’s son and manager, who executive-produced the special, called it a celebration rather than a tribute: “Tony never looks back, he only looks forward.”
“When I reached out to artists, not one didn’t say yes,” he said, adding, “I didn’t want it to be scripted, I wanted it to be spontaneous…Tony’s music transcends generations.”
Astoria, Queens-born Bennett–who turned 90 last August; has performed for over 60 years and won 19 Grammys; and is also an accomplished painter–told the Paley Center audience that his family had inspired his career when he sang for them as a child, particularly after his father died when he was ten. “I was shocked because I loved him so much. My relatives came over every Sunday to see my family, they said, ‘We love the way you sing, we like the way you paint.’ My relatives told me who I was. There’s not a day that I don’t paint, not a day I don’t think about a song to sing,” he explained.
Bennett–who said the biggest influences on his singing career include Billie Holiday, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby—revealed that Bob Hope had urged him to Americanize his name from Anthony Dominick Benedetto to Tony Bennett, and later took him on the road to perform.
“Jack Benny and George Burns told me it would take nine years to learn how to perform. They were exactly correct, it took me nine years to learn what to leave out,” he said.
Bennett, who has performed with Lady Gaga since 2011, said she “gave me her audience, and I gave her my audience,” adding that he would also like to perform sometime with Beyonce.
“I love what I do, I love to make people feel good, I don’t want to retire,” he added, describing his 90th birthday concert as “the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life, in my whole career.”
A companion CD to the NBC special, Tony Bennett Celebrates 90, featuring musical performances from the broadcast, was released last week; this includes a booklet featuring appreciation essays by President Bill Clinton, Martin Scorsese, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mandel, Bill Charlap and Everett Raymond Kinstler. A deluxe 3-CD package, with the companion CD and two additional CDs featuring rare and never before released archival studio and live Tony Bennett recordings, is also available exclusively on Amazon.
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