Duke Ellington once told Tony Bennett that it was better to do two creative things rather than just one.
Bennett, now 84, took that advice to heart and improved upon it.
His melt-your-heart voice earned 15 Grammys. He will share his hits with area fans Sunday at the American Music Theatre.
He authored three books.
He's an accomplished painter, who carries a sketchpad and pencil in his suit pocket in case sudden inspiration strikes.
His philanthropic work with The American Cancer Society and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation earned him The United Nations 2007 Humanitarian Award.
Bennett - born Anthony Dominick Benedetto - came from humble roots in Queens, N.Y. His extended family, who visited on Sundays, was his first audience.
After serving in World War II, Bennett attended the American Theatre Wing School on the G.I. Bill and began booking club gigs.
Bob Hope gave him his big break - and stage name - in 1949. He's made music for seven decades with stars from Elton John to John Legend.
His upcoming album "Tony Bennett: Duets II" is due out in September. For Bennett, the CD has been a family affair. His son Danny was an executive producer, his son Daegal was the audio engineer and his granddaughter Kelsey took photos of the recording sessions.
Though Bennett has slowed down in recent years, his work schedule would still make Ellington proud.
He took some time to answer questions via email in between album rehearsals and a recent "American Idol" appearance.
You grew up in New York City. You left your heart in San Francisco, as the song goes. Do you have a favorite city or tour stop? I happen to love New York City - there is just nothing like it any place in the world. But I have to say, I love going back to San Francisco. The people there are so lovely to me when I am in town, and it was a thrill to sing at the World Series last year for the Giants. I call San Francisco America's Paris.
When did you first have the thought that you might like to be a singer? My brother was called "Little Caruso" (after opera singer Enrico Caruso) as he had a beautiful voice as a young boy. I was more of the comedian in the family at that time, but I always loved to sing and perform. My family was very supportive and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
What has helped keep you going when there has been hardships or setbacks? I think if you have a passion for what you do then the rough times become challenges that you rise above. I know that during a rough time in my career when I wasn't recording with Columbia Records, I made two records with the late great jazz pianist Bill Evans, and, to this day, they are often considered the best records I made. You never know what good things can come out of hard times, so I always try to remain optimistic.
"Duets II" comes out in the fall. What do you like best about performing a duet? I love a duet that has contrast - where the two voices are different - as I think that is when a duet is most interesting. When the voice(s) are too similar, then it sounds like a chorus.
You've performed with several artists. Are there a few who stand out to you? I love k.d. lang. Anytime I get a chance to sing with her, it's just a real treat for me. She is a natural singing talent in the same category as Judy Garland.
You were recently on "American Idol." Do you have a favorite TV show (past or present)? I love shows that are about nature. PBS always has fantastic programming, and I love the "Oceans" series that was on HBO. I . . . often put that on when I am painting in my art studio. It is inspiring.
What is your advice to young performers? I think young artists have it very tough now. There used to be a circuit so that you could be bad before you learned how to be good. But now, young artists have a hit song, and two weeks later, they are playing stadiums. They just don't have the time to develop their talent, and the pressure they are under is enormous. They should make sure that they have a passion for what they are doing artistically because the audience always knows when an artist is not connected to what they are doing creatively.
Any plans for your 85th? Well, I am truly thrilled because even though my actual birthday is on Aug. 3, we are celebrating on Sept. 18. I will be making my debut at the Metropolitan Opera . . . and then right after the concert we are doing a benefit for the nonprofit I started with my wife, Susan, called Exploring the Arts to support arts education in public schools.
You have accomplished so much. What else is on your to-do list? Well, I have a lot of ideas for albums and paintings, so I hope I can get them all done!
- Erin McCracken, FlipSide staff
If you go
Tony Bennett will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday at the American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster. Tickets cost $99 to $134. For details and tickets, call 397-7700 or visit www.amtshows.com.
For details about Tony Bennett, visit www.tonybennett.com.
Read more meet-the-artist interviews at www.flipsidepa.com/musicdirectory.