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State honors Astoria legend Tony Bennett as he closes out memorable career

Tony Bennett poses for a portrait before an opening of his art exhibition in the Manhattan borough of New York on May 3, 2017. (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo)

Nearly lost in the tumult caused by the Aug. 3 release of a devastating report into Governor Andrew Cuomo’s alleged sexual harassment and abuse of power, was the proclamation of “Tony Bennett Day” in New York to honor the legendary singer’s 95th birthday and his final performances at Radio City Music Hall.

Anthony Dominick Benedetto was born in Astoria in 1926 and grew up in a two-story house on 32nd Street near Ditmars Boulevard during the Great Depression. He began to display his talents at an early age, performing at age 10 at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in 1936.

Long before he became a world-famous crooner, Benedetto honed his talents singing in restaurants and nightclubs in his Astoria, eventually working as a singing waiter at Riccardo’s by the Bridge, which closed last year due to the operational impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His career was put on hold while he fought in the final stages of World War II as a combat infantryman. Benedetto returned home in 1946 and brought his talent to Astoria hotspots such as the Shangri-La on Ditmars Boulevard and The Red Door on Steinway Street.

One night in 1949, Pearl Bailey heard him sing and invited him to open for her in Greenwich Village. Bob Hope was in the audience and visited with him after the show.

“Bob Hope came down to check out my act,” the singer recalled. “He liked my singing so much 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.’ First, he told me he didn’t care for my stage name and asked me what my real name was. I told him, ‘My name is Anthony Dominick Benedetto,’ he said, ‘We’ll call you Tony Bennett.'”

He went on to sell more than 50 million records, with numerous platinum and gold albums to his name. Along the way, Bennett garnered 13 Grammy nominations and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and is one of the select few artists to have new albums at the top of the charts in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

“Music and the arts have long been an essential piece of the fabric of New York, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has made more of a contribution in this space than Tony Bennett,” Cuomo said. “Not only is Tony a born-and-bred New Yorker who has been dazzling audiences with beautiful music for more than six decades, but he has always stayed true to his humble New York roots and can always be spotted throughout the city whether he is working on his next painting in Central Park, or just chatting with fans on the street.”

Earlier this year, Bennett’s family divulged that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His Radio City performances with Lady Gaga — with whom he’s released a second album entitled “Love for Sale” — last week were billed as the last of his illustrious career.

“From growing up as a child of immigrants, to all the contributions he has made to our community, Tony Bennett is a New Yorker in the truest sense of the word and I am honored to proclaim Aug. 3, 2021, as ‘Tony Bennett Day’ in New York,” Cuomo said.

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