Monday, July 28, 2008

A Future KV Honorary Member?: Tony Bennett

A recent discussion with a KV brother: he preferred Bennett to Sinatra. I disagreed on talent, but I had to agree on character. A born and raised New Yorker, from Astoria, who was schooled in Manhattan. By all accounts a real mensch. Nice song choice here too. Check out part of his wikipedia bio:
Tony Bennett (born Anthony Dominick Benedetto; August 3, 1926) is an American singer of popular music, standards and jazz. After having achieved artistic and commercial success in the 1950s and early 1960s, his career suffered an extended downturn during the height of the rock music era. Bennett staged a comeback, however, in the late 1980s and 1990s, expanding his audience to a younger generation while keeping his musical style intact. He remains a popular and critically praised recording artist and concert performer in the 2000s.
Bennett is also a serious and accomplished painter.
Anthony Benedetto was born in Astoria, Queens, New York City, the son of Ann (née Suraci) and John Benedetto. His father was a grocer who had emigrated from Podàrgoni, a rural eastern district of the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, and his mother was a seamstress. With two other children and a father who was ailing and unable to work, the family grew up in poverty.John Benedetto died when Anthony was 10 years old.
The young Benedetto grew up listening to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby as well as jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Joe Venuti. An uncle was a tap dancer in vaudeville, giving him an early window into show business. By age 10 he was already singing and performed at the opening of the Triborough Bridge. Drawing and caricatures were also an early passion of his. He attended New York's High School of Industrial Art where he studied painting and music, but dropped out at age 16 to help support his family. He then set his sights on a professional singing career, performing as a singing waiter in several Queens Italian restaurants.
His singing career was interrupted when Benedetto was drafted into the United States Army in November 1944 during the final stages of World War II. He did basic training at Fort Dix and Fort Robinson, encountering bigotry due to his Italian heritage, and became an infantry rifleman. Processed through the huge Le Havre "repple depple" replacement depot, in January 1945 he was assigned as a replacement infantryman to 255th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division, a unit filling in for heavy losses after the Battle of the Buldge. He moved across France and into Germany,and as March 1945 began he joined the front line and what he would later describe as a "front-row seat in hell."
As the German Army was pushed back into their homeland, Benedetto and his company saw bitter fighting in cold winter conditions, often hunkering down in foxholes as German 88 mm guns fired on them. At the end of March they crossed the Rhine and engaged in dangerous house-to-house, town-to-town fighting to clean out German soldiers; during the first week of April they crossed the Kocher and by the end of the month reached the Danube.During his time in combat, Benedetto narrowly escaped death several times.The experience made him a patriot but also a pacifist; he would later write, "Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn't gone through one."At the war's conclusion he was involved in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg, where some American prisoners of war from the 63rd Division were also freed.
Benedetto stayed in Germany as part of the occupying force, but was assigned to an informal Special Services band unit that would entertain nearby American forces.Later, his dining with a black friend from high school at a time when the Army was still segregated led to his being demoted and reassigned to Graves Registration duties. Subsequently, he sang with the Army military band under the stage name Joe Bari, and played with many musicians who would have post-war careers.

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