Tony Bennett Dies: Legendary Jazz and Pop Singer Was 96

29OCT99: Singer TONY BENNETT on stage at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, for his concert staged by new internet company Pixelon.com as part of their "iBash99". Paul Smith / Featureflash/Shutterstock

Tony Bennett, the legendary singer known for his silky voice and classic jazz and pop hits, died Friday. He was 96,  just two weeks before his 97th birthday.

Bennett passed away in his hometown of New York City, his publicist Sylvia Weiner confirmed to the Associated Press on July 21.

While no official cause of death was given, the singer’s team revealed in February 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years earlier.

Related: Jimmy Cobb Dies: Jazz Drummer Who Worked With Miles Davis Was 91

Born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on August 3, 1926, in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, Bennett’s early exposure to music came from his Italian-American immigrant parents.

He grew up listening to artists like Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby, as well as jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong and Joe Venuti.

As a young man, he showcased his vocal talent in church and school performances, and continued to hone his craft even during his service in World War II, performing with military bands in Europe.

After the war, he embraced the name Tony Bennett, setting the stage for a professional music career.

Bennett’s journey to stardom began in the early 1950s when he signed with Columbia Records. His first big hit, “Because of You,” catapulted him to fame and he quickly became one of the leading vocalists of the era.

But it was his signature song, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” released in 1962, that solidified his place in musical history. The timeless ballad not only won two Grammy Awards but also became an unofficial anthem for the City by the Bay.

Throughout his career, Bennett released over 70 albums and collaborated with numerous renowned artists — including Lady Gaga, with whom he recorded the Grammy-winning album Cheek to Cheek in 2014. The pair went on to collaborate again on 2021’s Love For Sale, which featured their own renditions of jazz standards by the American composer Cole Porter.

His records won him 20 Grammys — most of them achieved after he turned 60, including a Lifetime Achievement Award — and two Primetime Emmy Awards.

Despite his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Bennett’s passion for music never wavered, and he continued to perform for audiences and record new music in his later years.

Bennett’s final public performance took place in August 2021, when he performed alongside Lady Gaga in a show titled “One Last Time” at Radio City Music Hall.

Beyond his musical achievements, Bennett was a devoted philanthropist and activist. In 1965, he joined the Selma to Montgomery marches, advocating for voting rights and racial equality. He also refused to perform in apartheid-era South Africa, standing against racial oppression.

In addition to his activism, Bennett believed in the transformative power of arts education. In 2001, he founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York, which provided aspiring young talents with opportunities to pursue their artistic passions.