At 88, it’s still one of the most impressive flexes I’ve ever seen a musician perform live.
In 2015, at the third of four sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga split their money to promote their chart-topping, cross-generational duets album Cheek to Cheek in 2014. There was a light and snappy chemistry in the songs they sang together, but the best part of the night was the solo sets, each inviting its own fan base—Bennett’s suave traditionalists and Gaga’s ludicrously dressed but sincere little monsters—into each other’s worlds.
For most of the concert, they played with a full band and orchestra, but on one song in his set, Bennett called in a guitarist to join in just within the spotlight. He said the song was dedicated to “my best friend Frank Sinatra,” and started with the velvety rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon,” holding the mic aside and not close to his mouth. A few lines in, he put the mic over the piano and sang the rest without any amplification. The whole room was silent, and Bennett’s voice was so powerful and clear that even in the cheap seats you could hear every single clear note, every clear lyric.
It was captivating and quintessential Tony Bennett. Unflashy elegance, unavoidable notoriety and, above all, the ease with which he suddenly transformed from every crooner of La Ta Tat into a prodigiously talented Belter who could express himself like an opera singer.
Bennett, who died Friday at the age of 96 while battling Alzheimer’s disease in August 2021, made his final public appearance on the same stage once again with Lady Gaga. He once again proved his strength and resilience, this time simply by performing.pathetic “60 minutes” corner It documented Bennett’s anguish in rehearsal, but his final triumph when he took the stage. “He called me ‘sweetheart,'” Gaga said in a run-through. But I wasn’t sure if he knew who I was. But every time the band played the opening note of another song and Bennett started singing, she witnessed a startling change.
“When the music comes on, something happens to him,” she said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
It was the final act of an unlikely collaboration that changed the trajectory of each musician’s career. When Gaga first teamed up with Bennett on “Cheek to Cheek,” some skeptics saw it as little more than a clever diversion, a way for a wild pop agitator to rebrand as an old-school jazz singer in the wake of her 2013 album Artpop, a bombastic (if somewhat underrated) first major debacle. But her exuberance, respect and musical intelligence she brought to working with Bennett undoubtedly won her the respect of her fans and older generation listeners. I can’t remember how many people I heard muttering that night in 2015 as I was filing papers from Radio City. sing! “
Bennett, too, was accustomed to reinventing with clever timing. He emerged on MTV in his late 60s and recorded an “Unplugged” album featuring collaborations with Elvis Costello and KD Lang, which ultimately won him a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. He sang with more eclectic and sometimes younger musicians on a series of “duets” albums from 2006 to his 2012. He hit it off with Amy Winehouse, but the relationship didn’t last long. Her brilliant rendition of “Body and Soul” on “Duets II” was her last recording. The song was released as a single after her death on Winehouse’s 28th birthday.
Gaga fulfilled Bennett’s desire to stay active and engage with a younger generation of musicians, and her professional stability made her the most dedicated of his duet partners. But Gaga also said Bennett’s guidance “saved” her life. In her 80s at the time, her example allowed her to think beyond her successes and failures in the present moment and to value the length of her music career. “I was so sad. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I was dead,” Gaga said of the days before “Cheek to Cheek.” “Then I spent a lot of time with Tony. He only wanted my friendship and my voice.”
Their voices and energies didn’t always blend particularly well. Gaga brought an awkward theatricality to the collaboration, but Bennett’s voice seemed more relaxed and less contrived with age. But the mutual admiration they shared was genuine enough to open the hearts of their respective audiences and generations. With his 2021 album of Grammy-winning Cole Porter covers, Love for Sale, Bennett handed over the baton to Gaga and decided she could continue her life’s work of keeping The Great American Songbook alive. And Gaga told the Little Monsters to do their homework and understand the rich history of American popular music.
Their last and one of the most bittersweet moments of mutual respect occurred during a show on Radio City in 2021 and will forever be remembered in “60 Minutes.” clip It went viral on social media on Friday. After weeks of calling her her “sweetheart,” she finally got that her name back to him when they were — where else? – on stage. “Wow!” Bennett cried, his duet partner clearly delighted. “lady gaga!”