He has won nine Grammy Awards and sung for seven U.S. presidents. He has sold more than 50 million records and is described by the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll as "the epitome of cool." He is also an accomplished painter, and the United Nations has given him a "Citizen of the World" honor.
Old folks love him.
Young folks love him.
Really, everybody loves him.
He is, of course, Tony Bennett. And he is, above and beyond his accomplishments, a true gentleman. He speaks respectfully and thoughtfully of music and of other artists. He's smart, stylish and graceful, and at 75 he's still going strong, as he'll show today through Sunday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
Although he's an accomplished recording artist in his own right, and songs such as "Rags to Riches" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" are considered his staples, Bennett has never hesitated in paying proper homage to other singers and composers he's admired. He has recorded albums honoring Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington, and he deeply values what he calls the unappreciated tradition of American music. Soup-of-the-day trends, he believes, lead to a tendency in this country to place slick marketing before substance.
"I travel around the world," Bennett says, "and when I get to Malaysia or New Zealand or a remote area that Americans aren't really used to going to, the first thing they show you is their tradition. [Their traditions are] so old, and they respect what they've contributed to the rest of the world. ... That's more important to them than money.
"America's so young; we don't realize how good we are. It frustrates me. If you're an American, appreciate Walt Disney. Appreciate Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and Fred Astaire's dancing and Frank Sinatra's crooning."
Bennett's own link to American tradition is tied directly to a living American institution. In 1949, Bob Hope saw Bennett singing as a back-up vocalist with Pearl Bailey and gave him his first break. Hope also gave him a new persona.
"He discovered me," Bennett says. "He asked me my name, and I said `Anthony Dominick Benedetto.' He said, `Well, that's too long for the marquee. I'd like to Americanize you. Let's call you Tony Bennett.'
"He had no idea that there'd ever be a singer called Engelbert Humperdinck," Bennett adds with a laugh.
When: Today at 2 p.m., tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall