Singer Tony Bennett, who has made showtunes and the rest of the American Songbook the cornerstone of his repertoire since the early 1950s, has been named recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
In making the announcement, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden released a statement saying, “Tony Bennett is not just an artist for the ages, but an artist for all ages. His interpretations and re-interpretations have introduced new generations to the Great American Songbook. He is one of a handful of artists to have new albums charting in seven consecutive decades, beginning in the 1950s through the 2010s.”
In accepting the award, Bennett recalled that one of his first recordings was “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” by George and Ira Gershwin. “I am very proud that one of the earliest records I ever made was a song written by the Gershwins, as their songwriting mastery was so exceptional. To be receiving an award that was named in their honor is one of the greatest thrills of my career, and I am deeply appreciative to the Library of Congress to be named this year’s recipient.”
Among Bennett’s dozens of albums are Tony Bennett Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook; Tony Bennett Sings a String of Harold Arlen; Bennett/Berlin; Stranger In Paradise; Sunrise, Sunset; and hundreds of individual theatre-related tracks.
He appeared on Broadway twice in concert shows: 1974’s Tony and Lena Sing, with Lena Horne; and 1993’s Tony Bennett in Concert.
Bennett’s 90th birthday on August 3, 2016, was marked with the broadcast of a TV special (Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come), the release of a new CD (Tony Celebrates 90) and a book (Tony Bennett: Just Getting Started), and the lighting of the Empire State Building honoring his musical legacy.
Bennett will receive the prize in a November ceremony at a date to be announced, in Washington, D.C. He has been a Kennedy Center honoree (2005) and an NEA Jazz Master (2006) and received Billboard magazine’s Century Award (2006).
The Gershwin Prize honors a living musical artist’s “lifetime achievement in promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations.” Previous recipients include Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, and Smokey Robinson.