Tony Bennett, who died on Friday at age 96, never wavered from his role as a torchbearer of the Great American Songbook over the course of his 70+ years in the business. Into the 2020s, the crooner remained a conduit to a bygone era even as the face of popular music changed around him time and time again, finding a nobility all his own in his celebration of timelessness.

Per the New York Times, Bennett died at his longtime Manhattan home. His death was confirmed by his publicist, Silvia Weiner.

Bennett amassed many accolades throughout his career, including 20 Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and two Primetime Emmy Awards. He was named an NEA Jazz Master and a Kennedy Center Honoree, and was the founder of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria, Queens, New York. He sold more than 50 million records worldwide.

Born Anthony Benedetto in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, NY on August 3, 1926. A singer and creative mind from an early age, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the final years of World War II and served in the occupying infantry in Europe, where he spent time on the front lines.

His music career began in earnest in 1946 when he returned to New York, where he took classes at the American Theater Wing and sang in nightclubs around the city. He steadily rose to national prominence throughout the ’40s and ’50s, when he changed his performer name to Tony Bennett to make it easier to fit on marquees. During this time he also honed his unique singing voice, a sound perhaps not as distinctive as the legends he feted—like Frank SinatraBillie HolidayJudy GarlandBing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and more—yet one that was uniquely warm and welcoming all the same. The atmosphere of jovial intimacy he honed with his vocal approach became his calling card for decades to come.

As Sinatra—a mentor, friend, and creative inspiration to Bennett—told Life magazine in 1965, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business. He excites me when I watch him. He moves me. He’s the singer who gets across what the composer has in mind, and probably a little more.”

As American popular music moved away from the jazz standards on which he made his name, Bennett remained committed to his slice of musical history. While his popularity waned in the ’60s and ’70s as rock and roll took over, his career underwent a resurgence in the mid-’80s, solidifying him as a cultural fixture in his later years and bringing his timeless sound and style to mainstream stages throughout the ’90s (including a lauded 1993 performance on MTV Unplugged) and into the 21st century. Watch a playlist of videos from the Tony Bennett MTV Unplugged set below.

Tony Bennett – MTV Unplugged (1994) – Full Video Playlist

In the last two decades, the Bennett maintained his unlikely contemporary relevance in American culture by way of various high-profile duets, most notably with Lady Gaga, with whom he recorded two albums and mounted a tour in 2015.

In 2021, Bennett’s family revealed in an interview with AARP Magaizine that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Bennett was originally diagnosed with the degenerative disease back in 2016 by neurologist Gayatri Devi, M.D., but continued to work despite his condition. “He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do,” Dr. Devi stated at the time. “He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder.”

Despite the diagnosis, Bennett once again defied time’s passage by continuing to record and perform, most often recreating the classic songs he had sung many times in the past. Still, his massive presence made them contemporary hits.

As he wrote in his autobiography The Good Life, he was often asked if he ever got tired of singing songs like his signature hit, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”. His go-to answer: “Do you ever get tired of making love?”

His final public performance came with Gaga as part of One Last Time, a special two-night engagement at New York’s Radio City Music Hall captured for an Emmy-nominated CBS concert special. Watch videos of Tony Bennett performing One Last Time below.

Tony Bennett – “Fly Me To The Moon” – One Last Time: Live At Radio City Music Hall, NY 2021

Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga – “The Lady Is A Tramp” – One Last Time: Live At Radio City Music Hall, NY 2021

[Videos: BTA Music]