You Say It's Your Birthday: Tony Bennett

Today is the birthday of crooner Tony Bennett (given name: Anthony

Dominick Benedetto), who was born in Queens, N.Y. 71 years ago.

Bennett's smooth voice and easy stage presence has put him second only to

Frank Sinatra in their jazz-and-swing-influenced style. Bennett got his

start as a singing waiter in his teens, having been raised by an Italian

grocer. He worked with the Army's entertainment corps during World War II,

but wasn't discovered until the end of 1941 while performing with Pearl

Bailey. He opened shows for Bob Hope in New York, changed his name to Tony Bennett and struck it big with a hit single, "Because of You."

Bennett's life is a timeline of milestones: His cover of Hank Williams'

"Cold Cold Heart" was the first notable pop cover of a country tune. He

backed his songs with the Percy Faith Orchestra. He scored more than 20 top-40 hits during his heyday. And a number of those -- such as "Rags to Riches" and "Stranger in Paradise" -- made the top 10. "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," only a top-20 charter, became Bennett's signature song.

Although Bennett was popular throughout the 1960s, he took a hiatus from

the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, returning with the release of The Art of

Excellence. He also worked with jazzmen Dizzie Gillespie and Dexter

Gordon, and then did something unprecedented for someone of his genre: He

appeared on MTV Unplugged (and released an album from the show) in

1994. On his most recent record, Bennett covers a number of Billie Holiday

favorites.

Other birthdays: Beverly Lee (Shirelles), John Graham (Earth, Wind &

Fire), Ian Birnson (Pilot), James Hetfield (Metallica), Ed Roland

(Collective Soul) and actor Martin Sheen.