Tony Bennett: Italian of the Week

Don Hunstein

Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born on August 3, 1926, in Queens, New York. His parents, John and Anna (née Suraci), both had family who came from Calabria, Italy. He was the youngest child and had an older brother and an older sister. As a child Tony loved to paint and sing. When he was a teenager, he began to use the stage name Joe Bari and often performed at Italian restaurants and clubs all over the city.

In 1944, Tony enlisted in the U.S. Army. While in Europe, he would often perform in military bands for his fellow soldiers. Upon his return to the United States, he attended the American Theatre Wing in New York City where he studied professional singing. In 1949, Pearl Bailey invited Tony to open for her at her show in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope took notice of the young amateur and introduced him to the music executives at Columbia Records. According to Tony – who was still using his stage name Joe Bari – “[Bob] asked me what my real name was. I told him, ‘My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto’ and he said, ‘We’ll call you Tony Bennett.’ And that’s how it happened. A new Americanized name—the start of a wonderful career and a glorious adventure” (Tony Bennett Biography).

14 - Tony Bennet 2003Tony’s first hit came in 1951 with the song “Because of You,” and over 60 years later he continues to have a successful career. He has released more than 70 albums, had 24 songs reach the Top 40, sold millions of records, and has had several albums reach gold and platinum status. Among his numerous awards, he has won 18 Grammys and two Emmys. He was a Kennedy Center Honoree and was honored by the Sons of Italy Foundation® with its Humanitarian Award at the 1999 National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) Gala. Tony has also gained fame for his artwork, and he has several paintings in the Smithsonian and other galleries.

Sources: Tony Bennett – Official Website, New Yorker, Biography.com, National Education & Leadership Awards Gala
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