Tony Bennett made music history with the Grammy-nominated CD Duets II when it debuted at the top of the Billboard Album charts, making Bennett the oldest vocal artist ever to achieve the number one spot. Recently nominated for three Grammys, including Best Traditional Pop Vocal, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), the critically acclaimed album followed the 85-year-old singer’s Grammy-winning 2006 Duets CD, which had, in turn, been released in honor of his 80th birthday.
Tony Bennett: Duets II, a presentation of THIRTEEN’s Great Performances, features the singer’s greatest hits, performed by Bennett and today’s biggest stars, including John Mayer, Michael Bublé, k.d. lang, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Queen Latifah, Norah Jones, Josh Groban, Faith Hill, Alejandro Sanz, Carrie Underwood and more.
The sessions, filmed to capture the magic of these performers singing with the master of the Great American Songbook, airs on Friday, January 27, 2012, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).
Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local arts programming to the New York community.
The album took more than six months to record, with each track recorded face-to-face with his singer partners in studios around the world, from LA to Nashville to London. Among the many highlights is Amy Winehouse’s last recorded track (“Body and Soul”), which was produced in London’s famous Abbey Road Studios in March. Other tracks were recorded in New York in late July: the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart classic, “The Lady Is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga, and the Alan and Marilyn Bergman classic, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” with Aretha Franklin, and “Stranger in Paradise” with Andrea Bocelli, recorded at the singer’s Italian home (see full track listing below).
The CD received kudos from all quarters. The Wall Street Journal noted that the singer was “…constantly reaffirming his position as pop music’s greatest living patriarch,” and Associated Press observed, “Tony Bennett is as timeless as the songs he sings on ‘Duets II.’”
The musical segments are highlighted by insights on the process from the performers, making for an up-close look at one of the year’s most celebrated recordings. The sessions were filmed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Beebe (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Collateral”), providing a personal, behind-the-scenes look at Bennett’s latest collaborations and his artistic approach with each song.
Entering his seventh decade as a recording artist with more than 100 albums and 15 Grammy Awards including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Bennett has earned his legendary status many times over. He remains the Columbia recording artist with the greatest longevity at the label. His 2007 primetime special, “Tony Bennett: An American Classic,” won seven Emmy Awards and was directed by Academy Award winner Rob Marshall.
He has performed for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Geroge H.W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama. He also worked with and marched alongside Martin Luther King in his 1965 civil rights march and was honored with the Martin Luther King’s Salute to Greatness Award.
In addition to performing, he is a visual artist as well, with three of his original paintings featured in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian, including his portraits of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. His humanitarian efforts are renowned, and the United Nations honored him with their Humanitarian Award in 2007.
He has published three books — his autobiography, The Good Life, and two collections of his paintings, Tony Bennett: What My Heart Has Seen and Tony Bennett in the Studio: A Life of Art and Music. Bennett founded, in association with the Department of Education in New York City, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts — a public arts high school in his hometown of Astoria, Queens. With his wife, Susan, he established Exploring the Arts, a charitable organization that supports arts education in NYC public high schools. Exploring the Arts supports 14 public high schools throughout New York City.
In the fall of 2007, a documentary of Bennett’s life and career, produced by Clint Eastwood, “Tony Bennett: The Music Never Ends,” aired on THIRTEEN’s American Masters on PBS.
The full song program follows:
“The Lady Is a Tramp” (Lady Gaga)
“One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” (John Mayer)
“Body and Soul” (Amy Winehouse)
“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (Michael Bublé)
“Blue Velvet” (k.d. lang)
“How Do You Keep the Music Playing” (Aretha Franklin)
“The Girl I Love” (Sheryl Crow)
“On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Willie Nelson)
“Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” (Queen Latifah)
“Speak Low” (Norah Jones)
“This Is All I Ask” (Josh Groban)
“Watch What Happens” (Natalie Cole)
“Stranger in Paradise” (Andrea Bocelli)
“The Way You Look Tonight” (Faith Hill)
“Yesterday I Heard the Rain” (Alejandro Sanz)
“It Had to Be You” (Carrie Underwood)
Great Performances is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Vivian Milstein, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the Starr Foundation, the Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, public television viewers, and PBS.
Tony Bennett: Duets II is produced by RPM TV Productions, Inc. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.