Lady Gaga

Celebrating Tony Bennett's Multi-Generational Appeal

The singer’s 90th birthday NBC TV special brings out the stars to celebrate his legacy.

The sight of Miss Piggy steadying Tony Bennett when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float they shared suddenly lurched offered not only gentle laughs but a reminder: It's good to have friends of all ages.

Bennett proved as much as a young man while learning from elders like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. And he’s returned the favor in his golden years, becoming a seemingly unlikely pal and inspiration to performers whose grandparents courted to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."

Bennett marks his 90th birthday with a star-filled special Tuesday on NBC celebrating him as an ageless wonder.

He reached this latest highpoint not only by living long, but by living smart. Bennett reinvented himself in the late 1980s for the MTV generation without shedding the core of his talent or personality. Post-MTV phenom Lady Gaga, with whom Bennett recorded the hit 2014 standards collection, “Cheek to Cheek,” absorbed this trait from him as much as she did from chameleonic superstars David Bowie and Madonna.

Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Michael Bublè, Leslie Odom Jr. and Elton John are among the performers who turn up for “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best is Yet to Come.” So does Alec Baldwin, who impersonates Bennett as an unflappable, upbeat paragon of cool. Unlike the president-elect, Bennett enjoys Baldwin's talent for mimicry. 

That’s because Bennett is the real deal. He posseses enduring, multigenerational appeal. Bennett earned his way into a rarefied league with his heroes, including Sinatra, who would have turned 100 last year, and Fitzgerald, whose birth centennial is in April.

Bennett is a living testament to their legacy and his own, with a voice that never falters – and he remains, thanks to Miss Piggy, a standup guy who never takes a fall.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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