Tony Bennett - American singer - crooner - painter - Anthony Benedetto
Tony Bennett: The Art of Excellence - Catto Gallery

Tony Bennett, 73 is in town! He is having many celebrations - what amounts to a "Bennett Festival in Britain": a three-part Radio 2 documentary series' "Tony Bennett: The Art of Excellence"; an exhibition of his paintings "What My Heart Has Seen - Anthony Benedetto" (he signs his paintings with his real name, this separates the singer from the artist) at the Catto Gallery, with his music playing in the back-ground. It was very stimulating to hear his beautiful singing voice and see his watercolours of the places he has visited. I noticed two Rio, one of Sao Paulo and many Italian places. He paints mostly landscapes, water-colours and replicates the view of Central Park South from his 15th floor apartment window over and over again.

He says, "Every day the view is different". He paints every day. Cary Grant bought a landscape. Frank Sinatra had two in his bedroom. Oprah Winfrey, Mickey Rooney and Donald Trump are among the friends and collectors of Bennett's paintings, which sell for thousands of dollars, around £8,000. He graduated in music and painting at the High School for Industrial Art in New York. We must thank Bob Hope who first heard him, shortened his name and took him on tour which set him on his way. Tony was born in Queens, New York in 1926.

His father was an Italian immigrant with a grocery store and died when Bennett was only nine; his mother worked at a sewing-machine in a garment factory. He first sang in a club at the age of 13 and his older brother John sang opera. Bennett served in the US Army during the war. He has had a remarkable life, in cabaret, giving his first concert at Carnegie Hall in 1971 where the Mob put a bomb, as Bennett' says "one of the boys".The Catto Gallery was actually in a house in Hampstead, a very green area. A couple there took my picture. They were Americans and big fans, they told me that Tony himself was there the night before!!! Also on show and for sale were books on his life and work.

His first wife was a fan that he had picked out from the audience, (he always flirted with his fans) and they had two sons.(When he got married for the first time in 1952, 2000 women dressed in black made a silent protest out side the church).The second wife was also a fan and his current girlfriend is actually the daughter of a couple of fans. Although she is in her thirties there is no age gap because he says he feels only 18 - "That's how I feel". I am a big fan but so far he has not noticed me at one of his concerts - what a shame!!! But I live in hope!!! He had a drugs problem but he "believed there was a light at the end of the tunnel" so he got out of the drugs scene and made a come-back. He loves clothes and is always immaculate, very Italian.

He was a friend of Sinatra who was 10 years older than him and influenced him, as well as Bing Crosby.He has found out they are closing down the theatre at Caesar's Palace, the wonderful theatre where Sinatra and Nat King Cole have played, and turning it into a boxing arena - he is outraged!!! He has just released a new album "Hot & Cool Bennett Sings Ellington", ( Jazz FM have been promoting this album this week and giving away copies as quiz prizes).He is in the jazz chart again. He has begun his tour with the Red Hot Aids Tribute Concert with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson followed by a concert at Leeds Castle, Kent a spectacular jazz extravaganza. Live on BBC TV.

My love for Tony Bennett ( started in the '60s.My mother had a record of his and I spend the entire three days of Carnaval indoors listening to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco, 1962" over and over again; and now the King of Smooth is virtually having a "National Tony Bennett Month", the greatest living American singer!!!

My friend Marlene Barbosa Borsoi, from Rio, was a great collector of Tony Bennett's music - she had everything. She used to go to the USA to get his records, so every time I was with her it was a pleasure to hear such excellent music apart from her marvellous food. (she even gave my ex-husband who is a professional music journalist some Tony Bennett cassettes). The last time I was in Rio her husband Humberto got some huge king prawns for a special dinner for me. I was very impressed when she said to me "this is the weekend cook" (she had a weekly cook as well as a weekend one!!!) Her flat was huge in a very posh area of Leblon. She had three beautiful daughters - Vanessa, Micheline and Patricia (to whom I am closer, as we have spent time together in Rome.) When we had lunch in Rome Marlene was talking about her grandchildren and she was looking very charming - she really was a Brazilian beauty. I loved her very much and I miss her greatly.


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