Looking back at Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s beautiful musical partnership: “He saved my life”

Fans are mourning the passing of Tony Bennett, who died today at the age of 96.

Bennett’s ability to work and stay current for almost 70 years, always winning over new generations of followers, was one of his most outstanding qualities.

Bennett was able to appeal to youngsters by appearing on MTV and collaborating with newer musicians without ever abandoning the musical style that made him famous.

His most well-known duet was with pop diva Lady Gaga. Gaga, with her electronic-fused pop successes like “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” may have appeared an improbable duet partner at first, but the two forged a love bond that marked Bennett’s final years.

Read more about their inspiring collaboration.

Tony Bennett began his career at a time when popular music was dominated by crooners, big bands, and American jazz standards, and he was one of the top performers of this era with hits such as “Rags to Riches” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He was widely respected among his contemporaries, including Frank Sinatra, who once called him “the best singer in the business.”

However, the music that made Bennett famous quickly fell out of favor in favor of rock & roll. Throughout the 1970s, he suffered; by the end of the decade, he had no management or recording contract and had developed a near-fatal cocaine addiction. Bennett’s story was far from over.

Bennett’s son Danny took over as manager, and they staged a comeback by attempting to appeal to younger audiences: Bennett would not abandon his old approach, but instead introduce new audiences to the Great American Songbook.

Bennett has appeared on chat shows such as Late Night with David Letterman. He even appeared on MTV, and his MTV Unplugged special, which featured collaborations with musicians such as Elvis Costello and k.d. lang, gained a large viewership and received a Grammy Award.

“Tony Bennett has not just bridged the generation gap, he has demolished it,” the New York Times reported at the time. “He has solidly connected with a younger crowd weaned on rock. And there have been no compromises.”

In 2006, he published the platinum-selling Duets album, which featured duets from musicians spanning several generations, including Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Bono. John Legend and Michael Bublé.

But Tony Bennett’s most famous collaboration was with Lady Gaga. Despite their seemingly different styles and 60-year age difference, they formed an inspiring and successful duo.

Bennett and Gaga first met at a gala concert in New York in 2011, when the pop star caught Bennett’s attention by singing jazz songs — and he paid her a huge complement.

“I sang a couple jazz numbers that night, so I was real, real nervous to meet Tony Bennett — plus, I looked crazy,” Gaga recalled of their first meeting. “I had blonde in my hair and black in my hair, red lipstick, I had four big velvet moles on my face. I was doing my thing. And I went to meet Mr. Bennett, and he said, ‘Lady, you are a jazz singer.’”

Bennett continued to be pleased with her talent as they worked together on Bennett’s follow-up album Duets II.

“She came in so prepared and so knowledgeable about what to do. She’s as good as Ella Fitzgerald or anybody you want to come up with,” he commented in 2012. “She’s very strong. I know it sounds way out, but she could become America’s Picasso if they leave her alone and let her just do what she has to do. She is very, very talented.”

They decided to collaborate on an album. Cheek to Cheek, an album of jazz classics, was released in 2014 to tremendous acclaim, debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and winning the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

Gaga became the first woman in history to have three number one albums in the 2010s, while Bennett became the oldest musician to ever have a number one album. They also traveled and had a TV concert special together. They not only became wonderful duet partners, but also great friends as a result of it all.

“I think something I was craving for myself was a truly authentic collaboration, a true artistic exchange,” Lady Gaga remarked in 2015. “With Tony I found not only that, but I found a friend. Not only do we spend a lot of time together and make music, but we talk. It’s been an incredible experience all the way around.”

Bennett, according to Gaga, “saved” her when she was contemplating abandoning music.

“Six months ago I didn’t even want to sing anymore,” she mentioned in 2014, saying that many people were taking advantage of her success. “I was so sad. I couldn’t sleep. I felt dead… And then I spent a lot of time with Tony. He wanted nothing but my friendship and my voice.”

“I tell Tony every day that he saved my life,” she said.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga reunited for another collaboration after working on separate projects for several years, albeit this time it was much more melancholy.

Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, but the disease advanced slowly enough for him to live for a few more years. With the end near, he rejoined with Gaga for his farewell record and concert.

Bennett and Gaga performed together at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall in a sold-out two-night performance extravaganza to commemorate Bennett’s 95th birthday. It was also Bennett’s final performance: he announced his retirement from touring shortly after.

They released a second duets album, Love for Sale, which featured only Cole Porter songs. It was another hit, charting in the top ten when it was released in September 2021:

Bennett set a Guinness World Record for being the oldest individual to release a new album, and he also had the longest streak of top-10 albums of any living musician.

The album received Grammy nominations for Album of the Year, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

While Bennett was unable to attend, Lady Gaga performed two of the songs live at the ceremony, concluding with a touching homage to her friend and duet partner.: “I love you Tony, we miss you.”

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga may have once seemed like an unlikely pair but they proved to be a match made in heaven, giving Bennett an amazing partner in the final years of his career.

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