Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in New York, Bennett served in the US Army and fought several battles towards the end of World War II. Encouraged by his army general to pursue singing as a career, Bennett appeared on an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show and was asked to open for Pearl Bailey. He received his first record deal with Columbia in 1950, but didn’t strike gold until his last recording session with “Because of You.”
Bennett performed his single, “Because of You” to Sullivan audiences on September 23rd, 1951 (his first performance ever on the show). Already a number one hit, the song remained on the charts for 31 weeks. Bennett continued to be asked back to The Ed Sullivan Show and wound up appearing a total of 18 times throughout the show’s run. Ed Sullivan coincidentally presented Bennett with a gold record after his song “Rags to Riches” sold over a million copies. Bennett was also awarded the chance to perform with other big artists on The Ed Sullivan Show, among them Count Basie and the Woody Herman Band on two separate occasions in 1967. Over the years, Bennett performed his own hits like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and his version of standards like “It Had to be You,” and “What the World Needs Now” on the Sullivan stage.
After years of popularity, Bennett hit a rough patch both personally and professionally, that would last until 1986. During that time, many artists had a tough time trying to reinvent their images and stay relevant. Bennett went through a divorce, drug addiction, and even lost his recording contract. He tried recording contemporary music, but could not shake off his love of jazz. In 1986, he recorded “The Art of Excellence,” and it was his first album to chart since 1972. His son Danny helped expose him to a younger audience by booking him on David Lettermen and securing an MTV Unplugged special. Through that turnaround and the realization that younger audiences could still like jazz in this new generation, his musical career bounced back in full force. He has won 15 Grammies, 2 Emmies and was a Kennedy Center Honoree. Bennett has sold over 500 Million records, continues to perform, and is an accomplished painter.
Check out our Tony Bennett playlist to view full performances from The Ed Sullivan Show!