Earlier this month, Tony Bennett came to DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., to receive the 2017 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The legendary crooner, who is 91 years old and known for tracks like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” and “Who Cares,” was also treated to a concert. The lineup featured Chris Botti, Michael Bublé, Gloria Estefan, Wé McDonald, Michael Feinstein, Savion Glover, Josh Groban, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lukas Nelson, Vanessa Williams, and Stevie Wonder.
Before the event kicked off, journalists had an opportunity to interview some of these distinguished guests.
Actor Bruce Willis, who served as the evening’s emcee, was happy to share that “I Wanna Be Around to Pick Up the Pieces” is one of his favorite Bennett songs. “I like the song,” Willis added. “It’s a great song. He sings it very well.”
Groban discussed what sets Bennett apart in the music world, drawing from the time he collaborated with the star. “Tony has that indescribable nuance to his voice, that pathos to his voice that always tells a story with warmth and understanding in a way that draws you in. You never want to sing at people,” he explained. “You want to sing in a way that makes people want to come and listen and hear what you have to say. Tony’s just always been one of those people.”
Estefan has also worked with Bennett on music. “Each track is different and he gives a different nuance every time like the greats give their passion, heart and soul whenever they perform anything,” she reflected. “I was asking today – I don’t think there’s anyone ever at Mr. Bennett’s age that is still touring and singing and sounding so amazing with those chops of his.”
Bennett was very enthusiastic about his expectations for the evening. “I can’t enjoy myself more than I am tonight with all the wonderful public coming out and honoring me. It’s a great thrill. It’s something that’s going to be unforgettable!”
“I love the public,” Bennett told journalists when he was asked about his success. “They’ve been wonderful to me. I love to entertain them.”
Of all his collaborations, he said, “Lena Horne is the best I’ve ever worked with.” He confirmed an upcoming performance with Lady Gaga for New Year’s Eve but wouldn’t give any other details. We’ll have to wait and see how New Year’s Eve plays out.
The Concert Highlights
The performers entertained the crowd and Bennett with tunes such as “The Very Thought of You” (Bublé), “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (Estefan), “Steppin’ Out” (Williams and Glover), and others. All of these artists were in their element with their renditions.
Wonder – a previous recipient of the Gershwin Prize – teamed up with Estefan for a moving version of the ballad “What a Wonderful World.” McDonald, a former contestant on The Voice, was the youngest singer, but her performance of “For Once in My Life” was so outstanding that Bennett and the crowd gave her the first standing ovation of the program. With such a powerful voice as hers, I expect that McDonald has many years ahead in her budding music career.
Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis gave an introduction to a video, “Tony Bennett’s America,” highlighting Bennett as a World War II veteran and as a marcher with Martin Luther King in Selma during the Civil Rights Movement. Additional videos focused on the singer’s early life, his love of music, his support of younger musicians, and more topics. My personal favorite was the segment about his talent in painting, an activity he carries on today.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden praised Bennett’s achievements during her award presentation speech: “[Tony Bennett] has given us music that lasts and continues to be relevant and meaningful generation after generation, that thrills out hearts each time we hear it.”
The concert will be broadcast on PBS stations on Friday, January 12, 2018. Be sure to check your local listings.