Four things to admire about the singer Tony Bennett

Rev. Margaret Marcuson

May 13, 2021

Tony Bennett is a wonder. I’m astonished at the way he kept performing into his 90s. Recently his family made public the fact he has Alzheimer’s. Despite his diagnosis, he’s collaborated with Lady Gaga on a second album expected out soon.

In a wonderful story in the AARP magazine, I was reminded of four things I admire about Tony Bennett, in addition to his music:

One. He developed good singing habits early, and kept them up. He studied bel canto singing when he was young (using the GI Bill to fund it). He kept up the discipline—that’s why he has been able to sing into his 90s. Even in the Covid shutdown, on his doctor’s recommendation he has continued to rehearse twice a week with his longtime pianist. The pandemic has kept him from performing, but not from singing.

Two. He came back from huge setbacks, including alcoholism, drug abuse, trouble with the IRS, and career failure. The changing fashions of music in the `60s made his kind of music passé. His son Danny helped him orchestrate a comeback that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Three. He collaborated with younger artists, learning from them as well as sharing what he knew. I love his duet albums with artists like John Mayer, K.D. Lang, James Taylor, Sting, the late Amy Winehouse, and Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga became a protégé of his. These duets were a major part of his career resurrection, along with a presence in places like MTV.

Tony Bennett is a wonder. I’m astonished at the way he kept performing into his 90s. In a wonderful story in the AARP magazine, I was reminded of four things I admire about Tony Bennett, in addition to his music.

Four. Finally, he learned to be a painter, his second great artistic love. He became a serious student and practitioner of painting, and cultivated relationships with artists like David Hockney.

As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, consider these ways to follow Tony’s example:

-Find some daily practices to support you. For Christian leaders, some kind of spiritual practice will help you keep going. My own voice teacher told me once that 10 minutes of practice a day is enough to keep from losing ground vocally. Ten minutes of spiritual practice will help you through these tough times. You might try five minutes of prayer and Scripture in the morning and five at night (or even one minute).

-Reflect on the hardships you have responded to and the ways you have shown persistence and resilience. Most of us have faced enormous challenges and setbacks in this pandemic year—not to mention the rest of our lives. Celebrate your own comebacks.

-Connect with someone from a different generation, up or down. See what you can learn from them, or ask their advice about something specific.

-Try a creative practice that is new to you. I’ve been making tiny collages on 4×6 cards throughout the pandemic. I’m sure not an artist, and they’re not great, but it’s fun. Consider doing a simple art or writing practice simply for yourself. Let yourself be mediocre or even bad at it.

Here’s the AARP article about Tony Bennett, which includes a lovely three-minute video, well worth the time. The video includes footage and images of Tony in his New York apartment and a brief interview with his wife. At the end of the article there’s a description of a mini-concert he gave there for the reporter, John Colapinto, “a miraculous concert that was, quite literally, a gift for an observer and a stroll down memory lane.”

The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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