Tony Bennett

June 2019 View more

June 21 at Ravinia Festival Lake Cook and Green Bay Roads, Highland Park

An early audience
When I was a kid growing up in Astoria, Queens, my dad passed away very suddenly and my mom was left as a widow to raise three children. My family would come over every Sunday to support her, and after a big meal they would gather around in a circle and my brother and sister and I would perform for them. It was on those Sundays growing up that I received so much enthusiasm for performing from my family that I knew even then that I wanted to be an entertainer.

Mother knows best
My mom taught me to stick with quality. To make extra money as a seamstress, she would bring work home and I would sit with her while she was working. Every once in a while, she would throw a dress over her shoulder and say, “I refuse to work on a bad dress!” Somehow that sensibility was instilled in me and I have strived to stick with quality songs ever since.

When I first started out, I had it in mind that I didn’t want to just make “hit records”—I wanted to create a “hit catalog.” A few years ago, Columbia Records released The Complete Collection, which was the biggest boxed set they had ever produced of all my records. It was the first time I really had my entire catalog in front of me, and I was very pleased with it—there wasn’t one song that I listened to and felt that I shouldn’t have recorded it. I was very proud of that.

Lessons on longevity
It’s funny, because 20 years ago, when I was in my 70s, I would always get asked if I had plans to retire, and now people just tell me to “keep on going”—which I intend to do. My fans have been so good to me over the years, and I still love performing for a live audience and making them happy. If they leave the theater having spent an evening that enables them to put aside their own worries and problems for a few hours and enjoy themselves, that makes me feel good and keeps me going.

Photo by Kelsey Bennett