8 Things You Didn't Know About Tony Bennett

Singer's connections to Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga top list.

ByGail Deutsch
September 08, 2011, 12:07 PM

Sept. 9, 2011— -- Tony Bennett's real surname is Benedetto: "blessed one" in Italian. He certainly is. The 85-year-old singer is a 15-time Grammy-winner, a Kennedy Center honoree, a three-time author and an accomplished philanthropist.

Chris Cuomo recently interviewed Bennett about his extraordinary life and his new album, "Duets II," which will be released on September 20. Given his longevity and success, most of Bennett's story is already widely known. Here are eight things you might not know.

Watch the full story on "20/20" online.

1. Forget cough drops. To preserve his voice after six decades of recording albums and performing, Bennett relies on a discipline called the Bel Canto method. He calls it "the art of beautiful music" and says that "by doing 15 or 20 minutes of Bel Canto, it gives you a center and places your voice correctly, so that when you sing, it appears quite effortless."

2. Tony Bennett has two passions: singing and painting. He paints every day, and three of his works are in the Smithsonian's permanent collection. What's more, he recently took up sculpture.

3. Although on "Duets II" Bennett sings with some of the biggest pop stars of today, he says he does not listen to current popular music. What does he listen to? "Art Tatum on the piano, the greatest piano player that ever lived, a lot of Sinatra, a lot of Nat King Cole. Ella Fitzgerald," he said.

4. Despite her occasional craving for a "meat suit," Lady Gaga did not strike Bennett as outrageous. "She's a beautiful, sweet little Italian girl," he said. Gaga -- born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta -- sent Bennett a charming "Happy Birthday" video on his 85th birthday in August.

5. This will be Bennett's last "Duets" album. "I know when enough is enough. They're very complete," he said.

6. Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto. After serving in World War II, he started singing under the name Joe Bari, after a city in Italy. Bob Hope told him it was a "phony name," Bennett said. What did Hope think of his real name? "Well, that's a little long for the marquee. Let's economize it and call you Tony Bennett."

7. Bennett struggled with drug addiction in the late 1970s. According to Bennett, a friend, the manager for the late comic Lenny Bruce, said of Bennett, "he sinned against his talent." "That one sentence just changed my life. It meant that I had to drop everything I was doing. I stopped all drugs completely," Bennett said.

8. The last recording Amy Winehouse did before she died was her duet with Bennett on "Body and Soul" for "Duets II." Winehouse was a big fan of Bennett's. He happened to present her Record of the Year Grammy in 2008. Afterward she was quoted as saying, "I was in shock. ... Not because I had won the Grammy but because Tony Bennett had said my name."

The admiration was mutual. During the recording session, Bennett put the nervous Winehouse at ease by telling her he heard the influence of R&B and pop great Dinah Washington in her singing. Winehouse, amazed, told him Washington was her "goddess," Bennett said. "It changed the whole recording day. ... She sang beautiful," he went on. "And then I just regretted that I wasn't able to tell her to slow down. ... I was gonna tell her, You gotta stop, 'cause if you don't, you're gonna die."

The single of "Body and Soul" will be released on September 14, Winehouse's birthday.

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