The world knows Tony Bennett as a peerless interpreter of the American songbook. His singing career just entered its sixth decade and he has 15 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and two Emmy Awards. He was named a Kennedy Center Honoree and NEA Jazz Master and the United Nations presented him with their Humanitarian Award and Citizen of the World Award. Yet as a child growing up in Queens New York he wanted to be a painter. He studied at the School of Art and Design in Manhattan and continued with private studios and teachers. It's an open secret that art is as much a part of his life as music.
Bennett paints under his family name of Benedetto. He lives out his visual passions through this alter ego: As Tony Bennett tours the world, Anthony Benedetto paints and sketches a rarified daily scene, from intimate musical gatherings to international cityscapes. The United Nations twice commissioned his artwork, including their 50th Anniversary "Peace" and "Brotherhood" (purchased by Oprah Winfrey). Three Bennett originals are part of the Smithsonian Institution's permanent collection, including his portrait of Duke Ellington, which was recently accepted into the National Portrait Gallery. Bennett's work is also on permanent display at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio and is part of the collection at the National Arts Club in New York. Bennett's work graced the collections of the late Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and artist Robert Rauschenberg and is owned by President Bill Clinton, Carol Burnett, Whoopi Goldberg, Donald Trump and Katie Couric, among a select few. The first book of his paintings, "Tony Bennett: What My Heart Has Seen," was released by Rizzoli in 1996 and his second, "Tony Bennett In the Studio" was published in 2007. At 83, he is a master of the arts and has earned his status of living legend.
Legendary performer and 15-time Grammy Winner Tony Bennett graced the stage at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 2009 to the delight of fans that attended that exhilarating performance. This year, the singer who paints under his family name Benedetto, will participate as the official visual artist of the Festival by painting the image to be displayed on the Festival's annual poster. Bennett's portrait of his friend and colleague, the late Louis Prima will be reproduced as the 2010 New Orleans Jazz Festival poster in honor of the centennial anniversary of Prima's birth, a New Orleans native, which is celebrated in December of this year. To view the poster image, visit nojazzfest.com
Bennett, who is an accomplished visual artist with three of his original paintings included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution, commented, "Louis Prima was an absolute original and I was thrilled to be asked by the Jazz Festival to paint his portrait for this year's poster art – he was an exceptional performer and a dear friend and he embodied the buoyant spirit of New Orleans."
Quint Davis, producer/director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, said, "Tony Bennett's performance at the 2009 Jazz Fest was a highlight for everyone who attended. We are honored to present his portrait of Louis Prima as this year's Festival poster. This tremendous tribute to one of New Orleans' great musicians by one of America's great musical artists is the kind of celebration of our culture to which Jazz Fest itself is dedicated."
2010 marks the centennial year of Louis Prima's birth. Prima's contributions to the American music scene are measured by the decade. In the 1930's he took his New Orleans trumpet and vocal style to New York and Los Angeles where, with his New Orleans Gang, he helped define an era. Prima wrote Sing, Sing, Sing, the Swing Era anthem immortalized in Benny Goodman's later cover. The success of the Big Band sound led Prima to form a 22-piece orchestra that regularly topped the Big Band Era charts of the 40's. Big Bands having faded by the 50's, Prima moved to Las Vegas were he fashioned the Witnesses with New Orleans' great tenor saxophonist Sam Butera and defined yet another music scene. That band's shuffle beat combined with its New Orleans jazz roots laid the foundation for early Rock & Roll. Prima relaunched his recording career in 1957 with Just a Gigolo / I Ain't Got Nobody; two songs that Prima combined so successfully that Van Halen's David Lee Roth had a hit with Prima's joinder in 1985. In 1958 Prima won the first Vocal Category Grammy for That Old Black Magic. In 1966 he gave voice to King Louis in Disney's The Jungle Book, the album of which went gold.
In 1982 Sing Sing Sing was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, followed in 1999 by his 1957 album The Wildest. During his five-decade career he recorded nearly 800 songs and was a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show where he showcased the incredible talent of Butera, Keely Smith and Gia Maione. Even after his passing in 1975, Louis Prima still spins gold: The Louis Prima Capital Collectors Series compilation CD went gold in 2008 – and top the charts: His Live From Las Vegas hit the Billboard Top Jazz Album chart in 2005. If you don't know Prima, you No Capicia.
Bennett's silk-screened poster is the first edition in a new generation of poster series for Jazz Festival, "Performance Art: The Musical Artist As Visual Artist," which will showcase the visual artistry of musical performers. Bennett's poster, titled "The Chief of New Orleans: A Portrait of Louis Prima" will be available in four numbered editions: 12,500 unsigned posters on archival vellum paper, 23" x 35" ($69); 2,000 artist-signed prints on museum-standard 100% cotton rag paper, 24" x 37" ($295); 500 artist-signed remarques bearing a hand drawing by the artist and the estate-stamped signature of Louis Prima, 25"x 39" ($795); and, 300 C-marques (over-painted canvases) 26" x 40" ($995). The Bennett editions are available for pre-ordering on the website.