Tony Bennett

Though pop crooner Tony Bennett has been entertaining audiences for half a century, during the '90s he attracted a youthful audience by singing with pop/rock stars and appearing on an MTV special.

Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto 73 years ago in Astoria, Queens, N.Y. He worked as a singing waiter in his teens and performed with the U.S. Army's entertainment corps in World War II.

After appearing on an Arthur Godfrey talent show, Bennett was first noticed by the music industry in 1949 while performing under the stage name Joe Bari with singer Pearl Bailey.

While arranging for Benedetto to perform at Manhattan's Paramount Theater, comedian Bob Hope changed the singer's name to Tony Bennett.

Bennett signed with Columbia Records and issued 1951's chart-topping "Because of You." It featured the Percy Faith Orchestra, which accompanied Bennett on most of his early records. He then covered Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart."

Other notable Bennett hits of the period included 1953's #1 "Rags to Riches" and #2 "Stranger in Paradise," as well as the 1954 top-10 hit "There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight." In 1956, Bennett began working with his longtime musical director, pianist Ralph Sharon.

Bennett's fame grew because of his smooth voice, careful articulation, and knack for jazzy interpretations of classic pop songs. His Basie Swings, Bennett Sings (1959) was influential to many pop stylists. Though Bennett's 1962 recording of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" only made #19 on the Billboard Hot 100, the double Grammy Award-winning tune became his signature song.

Bennett adapted the work of such classic songwriters as George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer and Irving Berlin. He also worked with such legends as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bennett's most acclaimed LPs include 1964's When Lights are Low, 1966's The Movie Song Album, and 1975's The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album.

However, the late '70s and early '80s were a dry period for Bennett. He began recording on his own independent record label but refused to sing works by young, rock-era songwriters. Over time, Bennett increasingly turned his attention from music to his other love, painting.

The first unqualified success of his latter period was 1986's Bennett/Berlin, on which he performed Irving Berlin tunes with Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and George Benson. Perfectly Frank, Bennett's 1992 collection of Frank Sinatra songs, was even more popular and received a Grammy Award. The same honor was bestowed on Bennett's 1993 tribute to Fred Astaire, Steppin' Out.

Then, led by his manager/son Danny, Bennett began courting younger audiences by appearing on such trendy shows as "Late Night with David Letterman" and "The Simpsons." Bennett also made a startling appearance at 1993's MTV Music Video Awards, presenting a trophy with the popular, volatile Red Hot Chili Peppers.

In late 1994, Bennett's "MTV Unplugged" segment, which featured duets with k.d. lang and Elvis Costello, earned him a whole new audience among the MTV generation, not to mention two more Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

Here's to the Ladies (1995) featured Bennett's interpretations of some of his favorite female singers' hits. Last year, he issued The Playground and an autobiography, "The Good Life."

Following eye surgery earlier this year, Bennett appeared at the Hawaii SwingFest with such bands as the Royal Crown Revue.

Sinatra once said: "Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business, the best exponent of a song. He excites me whenever I watch him ... he moves me."

Other birthdays: Joel Scott Hill (Canned Heat, Flying Burrito Brothers), 60; Cliff Fish (Paper Lace), 50; Dan Fogelberg, 48; Feargal Sharkey, 41; Kira Roessler (Black Flag), 37; and Ian Haugland (Europe), 35.