Tony Bennett is next in line to receive the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Library of Congress announced Tuesday, calling the 90-year-old crooner “not just an artist for the ages, but an artist for all ages.”
“Tony Bennett is one of the most accomplished and beloved artists of our time,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. “His staying power is a testament to the enduring appeal of the Great American Songbook the Gershwins helped write, and his ability to collaborate with new generations of music icons has been a gift to music lovers of all ages,” she added.
The prize, named after George and Ira Gershwin, began in 2007 as a way of honoring artists who have reflected a “lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding,” the Library said on its website. Bennett is the ninth recipient, following past honorees like Smokey Robinson, Willie Nelson, Carole King, among others. Bennett will receive the prize at a November ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“When I was still using the stage name ‘Joe Bari’ I made a demo record that was a two-sided 78 disc, and one of the sides I recorded was ‘Fascinating Rhythm,’ which was written by George and Ira Gershwin,” Bennett said in a statement. “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.”
He said the award “is one of the greatest thrills of my career.”
He won a 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award and a 1995 Grammy for Album of the Year for his 1994 “MTV Unplugged” album, which helped him enter the pop consciousness of a younger generation. On that live album is a cover of “The Girl I Love,” which was penned by the Gershwins.
More than two decades later, Bennett debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts with “Cheek to Cheek,” his 2014 collaboration and standards collection with Lady Gaga. At 88, Bennett became the oldest artist to reach No. 1. Bennett told the Los Angeles Times last year that singing with Beyoncé was on his bucket list.
That year, Bennett told the NewsHour that he was blessed with a “wonderful” Italian-American family. His father died when he was 10 years old, so “all my relatives, aunt, uncles, nieces, nephews, they would come over every Sunday. And my brother, my sister and myself would entertain them. They would make a circle around us,” he said, adding that his family urged him to sing.
“So they created a passion in me of always trying to improve,” Bennett said. “And here I am … I’m still working and trying to get better and better at what I’m doing,” he said.