tony ben­nett

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY MARIA BAR­TIROMO Twit­ter: @Mari­aBar­tiromo Maria Bar­tiromo is the an­chor of “Morn­ings With Maria” on the Fox Busi­ness Net­work.

When Tony Ben­nett re­leased “Cheek to Cheek,” his re­cent duet al­bum with Lady Gaga, it was a hit. At 88, Ben­nett be­came the old­est artist to top the Bill­board chart. Who’d he steal that honor from? Him­self, at 85, for “Duets II” (with as­sists from John Mayer, Aretha Franklin and Wil­lie Nel­son, among oth­ers).

Such ac­com­plish­ments speak to the singer’s stay­ing power and his con­tri­bu­tion to Amer­i­can cul­ture. Ben­nett is one of the world’s most pop­u­lar per­form­ers, and he’s kept the Amer­i­can song­book alive for decades. “Jazz is so spe­cial,” he told the Wall Street Jour­nal. “I’ve al­ways wanted to let young peo­ple know about it.”

That same de­vo­tion to meld­ing old and new also makes Ben­nett a hero for Ital­ian Amer­i­cans.

In 1906, Ben­nett’s fa­ther em­i­grated from Italy to Man­hat­tan. His par­ents didn’t make much money — Ben­nett’s fa­ther worked as a gro­cer; his mother earned pen­nies as a sweat­shop seam­stress. But Ben­nett didn’t let his poverty slow him down. Like Irv­ing Ber­lin and Frank Si­na­tra be­fore him, Ben­nett launched his ca­reer as a per­form­ing waiter. He was dis­cov­ered by Bob Hope in 1949 and signed by Columbia Records soon af­ter. He’s been mak­ing mu­sic ever since.

Ben­nett’s longevity and abil­ity to rein­vig­o­rate his brand speak di­rectly to the work ethic the Ital­ian Amer­i­can com­mu­nity is known for. Last year, at one of his con­certs, I was struck by how vi­brant and strong he seemed, even in his 80s. I was also moved by the way he’s in­cor­po­rated his fam­ily into his line of work — his son is his man­ager, and he of­ten brings his daugh­ter on­stage to per­form.

Sure, Ben­nett’s rags-to-riches story is quintessen­tially Amer­i­can. But his hu­mil­ity, hard work and de­vo­tion to his fam­ily? Those are what make him an Ital­ian Amer­i­can wor­thy of our re­spect.

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