During an interview with Don Rickles last year, the still-clever comic, who is a nonagenarian, was asked why he’s still on the road.
“It beats the alternative,” Rickles said.
Tony Bennett, who is 90, is asked the same question on occasion.
What is left for him to accomplish? Bennett has sold more than 50 million albums, won 19 Grammy Awards, a pair of Emmy Awards and has been a Kennedy Center honoree. So why hit the road, which is draining, even for those who are young enough to be his grandchildren?
“There are still people to sing for,” Bennett says. “There are more and more people that want to hear me sing.”
That’s been true for awhile. The New York native has had a number of huge hits in his career, including “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches” from the 1950s and ’60s.
But what’s perhaps most amazing about Bennett is his extraordinary comeback during the late ’80s and ’90s, when the youngsters of the MTV generation took notice. With the help of his son and manager, Danny, Bennett made a huge splash at a time when hair metal and grunge rock reigned, resurrecting his career with jazz and pop.
“I think it helps that what I sing is timeless,” Bennett says.
He has since performed with everyone from Elvis Costello and kd lang to Willie Nelson and Amy Winehouse. In 2014, he recorded an album, “Cheek to Cheek,” with the white-hot Lady Gaga.
“I can’t say how talented Lady Gaga is,” Bennett says. “She’s an amazing, one-of-a-kind talent. I loved working with her when we were making that album.”
It’s been more than a quarter century since Bennett’s unlikely second act commenced, and he’s singing to sell-out crowds.
“It’s amazing,” Bennett says. “I think people love to hear great music. People have an appetite for it. They love it and that’s why I’m still going strong.”
His warm tenor still pierces hearts (his voice has aged beautifully), and his ability to engage the crowd is a style clearly from another generation.
“We, the people I came up with, knew how to entertain,” Bennett says. “There’s an art to it. I just don’t think you see much of it anymore. But I keep it alive. I love to sing. The funny thing is that I’m still learning, even at this age.”
Bennett, a gifted painter, has made a point to give back to show his appreciation for the gifts he has received. He opened the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in New York 16 years ago, his way of paying tribute to the Chairman of the Board.
“Frank Sinatra changed my life,” Bennett said. “He told Life magazine that I was the best singer he ever heard. I was moderately popular then, but I took off and was selling out left and right after that. I’m still selling out. I owe Frank Sinatra something and I think the ‘something’ is to keep singing on a stage. He would do it if he was still around. I’ll do it for him.”
So don’t count on Bennett retiring any time soon.
“I’m having too much fun to hang it up,” he says. “As long as I’m healthy enough to travel and make my way around stage, I’ll continue doing this. It’s a good time playing these wonderful theaters. I’m a very fortunate man.”