At 88 Tony Bennett is set to swing York way

Tony Bennett.
Tony Bennett.
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Veteran singing star Tony Bennett is coming to the UK shortly - and one of his few live dates will be at York. GRAHAM CHALMERS profiles the legend.

How many more years can a legend keep doing it. It’s a question that’s been asked of many famous figures - but Tony Bennett truly is one of a kind.

At the age of 88, the classic pop and jazz singer is coming to Britain in a week or so’s time having first enjoyed chart-topping fame in 1951.

The forthcoming mini tour is in celebration of an incredible anniversary - his 64th year a recording artist.

In a sign, perhaps, that this 17 times Grammy Award-winning singer is finally slowing down, Bennett will be playing only four dates in the UK - but one of them is at York.

Beginning on September 4- 5 at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Tony will then move onto The Barbican Centre in York on September 7, before concluding this historic jaunt at The Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on September 9.

Rated by the late, great Frank Sinatra as “the best singer in the business”, Bennett has not only remained active over the decades, he’s also somehow remained almost ‘current’ - as they say.

His bestselling Duets II album in 2011 saw him singing with the late Amy Winehouse on her last-ever recording before the Back in Black singer’s tragic death.

And in a month’s time Bennett will release a brand, new album.

Cheek to Cheek is a collaboration with none other than Lady GaGa, the modern-day superstar who surprised him on his 88th birthday recently by arranging a trumpet serenade of Happy Birthday, along with a giant birthday banner flown over the skies of the San Francisco, the subject of his long-time signature song I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

In reality, Bennett is usually to be found in New York where he lives with his wife Carol , who’s more than 30 years his junior.

But it should come as little surprise that this quietly elegant, smooth-voiced crooner of Italian descent should link up with the flamboyant, occasionally outrageous 21st century pop icon of Italian and French ancestry.

Change has been part of Bennett’s life from the very beginning of his career.

Born in Queens in New York in 1926, he was first discovered in 1949 in Greenwich Village by America’s most popular comedian Bob Hope. It was he who gave him his stage name.

Tony said: “Bob Hope came down to check out my act. He liked my singing so much that after the show he came back to see me in my dressing room and said, ‘Come on kid, you’re going to come to the Paramount and sing with me.’

“But then he told me he didn’t care for my stage name (Joe Bari) and asked me what my real name was. I told him, ‘My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto’ and he said, ‘We’ll call you Tony Bennett.’”

From that one meeting has flowed 64 years of great performances on stage and on record from this singing maestro.

There’s always been a serious side to this most charming of artists - he joined with Dr Martin Luther King in the historic civil rights march in Selma in 1965 and he continues to devote much of his spare time and cash to charitable works.

But he remains even at 88 the supreme entertainer and the audience at his York show in just over a week’s time can expect a connoisseur’s set list.

The concert will be a personal collection of many of Tony’s all-time favourites from some of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century - plus classics from Broadway musicals and film soundtracks - Cole Porter, Ray Nobel, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and more.

And I Left My Heart in San Francisco, of course.

l Tony Bennett plays The Barbican Centre in Yorkon Sunday, September 7.

l For more information, visit www.yorkbarbican.co.uk