WASHINGTON (CBS SF/AP) — Tony Bennett, the beloved and durable interpreter of American standards whose chart-topping career spans seven decades, has been honored with this year’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
The Library of Congress announced the award Tuesday. The lifetime achievement award named for the duo of George and Ira Gershwin was created by Congress to honor singers and songwriters who entertain, inform and inspire. Past recipients include Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder.
Bennett, 90, gained his first pop success in the early 1950s with a string of singles for Columbia Records, including “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.” His 24 Top 40 hits included his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (1962), which won two Grammy awards.
Bennett enjoyed a career revival in the 1990s and became popular with younger audiences in part because of an appearance on “MTV Unplugged.” He continued recording and touring constantly, and in 2014, his collaboration with Lady Gaga, “Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
“His staying power is a testament to the enduring appeal of the Great American Songbook the Gershwins helped write, and his ability to collaborate with new generations of music icons has been a gift to music lovers of all ages,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement.
Bennett recalled that one of his earliest recordings was “Fascinating Rhythm,” a song by the Gershwins.
“To be receiving an award named in their honor is one of the greatest thrills of my career, and I am deeply appreciative to the Library of Congress to be named this year’s recipient,” Bennett said in a statement.
Born Anthony Thomas Benedetto in Queens, New York, in 1926, Bennett served in World War II, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the liberation of a concentration camp. He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to support civil rights and has performed for 11 U.S. presidents.
He is also an accomplished painter whose work has been exhibited at galleries around the world. He will also perform two shows at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco on July 17th and 18th.
Bennett is scheduled to accept the award in Washington in November.
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