AT 86, American crooner Tony Bennett is still at the top of his game. His latest book is further proof of that fact.
The 17-time Grammy Award winner shares his infectiously optimistic attitude in his new bestseller, which features his own life lessons and original drawings.
The author of a 2007 memoir and the subject of numerous biographies, Bennett last performed in Winnipeg at the Concert Hall in August when he earned a welldeserved standing ovation from a sold-out audience.
His perfectionistic passion drives him to continue touring. Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Astoria, Queens, New York to a seamstress mother and a grocer father, he was only 10 when his father died.
Despite an elementary school teacher telling him he had no singing talent, Bennett persisted with his love of music and eventually achieved his goal of buying his financially struggling mother her own house.
Bennett’s genuine joy for life leaps off every page. Frank Sinatra was "his greatest mentor" and Sinatra called Bennett his favourite singer of all time and the greatest singer in the business.
To show his gratitude, Bennett and his third wife, Susan, a teacher, eventually opened the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens.
The late Judy Garland called Bennett "a giver who was born to take people’s troubles away." Bennett himself supports this analysis by admitting: "That’s really my goal — to make people feel good through the art of singing."
Bennett admires many of today’s musical powerhouses, including Canada’s k.d. lang, Lady Gaga and the late Amy Winehouse, whom he calls a "genius." He sang with them and many more of today’s legends on a duets album, and it’s entertaining to read about his opinions.
He has a genuine appreciation for his fellow performers and shares that the reason his fans appreciate him so much is that he appreciates them just as much in return.
As for his stamina, Bennett credits thrice-weekly gym workouts and his refusal to use an escalator or elevator when stairs are available.
A former soldier, Bennett is a pacifist who muses: "We only live to 100 years at most; why use that time to harm others? We should just count our blessings and be happy that we’re alive."
When he’s not singing, the father of four can often be found in Manhattan’s Central Park, quietly sketching while passersby are always respectful of his privacy. Bennett is also the subject of a recent documentary, released at the same time as this book, titled The Zen of Bennett.
Bennett writes that love is the most important word in any language and that he pours his heart into work, friendships and family.
A staunch individualist and musical nonconformist, Bennett encourages his fellow performers to be themselves rather than emulating others. "Obstacles are necessary for success," he writes. "Be persistent and you will reach your goals."
Bennett has also won human rights awards for his lifelong work to combat discrimination.
He lightly touches upon his own foibles, including his drug problems and two failed marriages, but that is easily forgiven because this is a book of musings rather than a detailed memoir.
If you follow your passion, he says, you’ll never work a day in your life. One can only hope that his lifelong vacation will be shared with audiences for many years to come.
Brenlee Carrington, a Winnipeg lawyer and mediator, is the Law Society of Manitoba’s equity ombudswoman.