Tony Bennett, dead at 96, brought singular skill to North Texas stages

FILE – Tony Bennett reacts after performing the song “I left My Heart in San Francisco” during his 80th birthday celebration at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, on Nov. 9, 2006. Photo: Associated Press/Kevork Djansezian.

Tony Bennett, a legend of the American songbook and a singular talent, has died at 96.

There came a moment during every Bennett performance I was fortunate enough to witness which never failed to take my breath away.

It happened when he performed at Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall in 2014. It happened when he sang at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium in 2016. And it happened when he sang at the Winspear Opera House in 2018, in what would be his final North Texas appearance.

Each time, Bennett set his microphone down, atop the gleaming black Steinway grand piano he always stood beside. Then, he stepped to the very front of the stage, and, with no amplification, sang “Fly Me to the Moon” as clear and clean as a bell. It was incredible to sit in those spaces, the rapt silence filled by Bennett’s muscular, expressive voice, as easily heard in the farthest corners of the venue as it was the front row.

Such was his skill and staying power, that at 91 years old — his age when he stepped onto the Winspear stage five years ago — he was just as formidable as he was at 81 or 71.

Bennett played another Dallas show in 2018.    He made a brief appearance to help christen the re-opening of the Statler Hotel downtown, a venue where he’d first performed in 1956.

He retired from touring in 2021; he’d been diagnosed with  Alzheimer’s.

Exactly when and where Bennett first performed in North Texas is unclear, as scant information about his early touring years is available. Still, the acclaimed vocalist found his way to every venue of consequence in the region over the years, performing at the Meyerson, the Winspear, McFarlin Auditorium and, in 1975, he even made an appearance at NorthPark Center.

His was a singular talent, an incandescent thing which burned brightly for half a century and beyond. How fortunate we were in North Texas to have basked in such brilliance, even for an evening.

Bennett is survived by his wife, Susan; his sons, Danny and Dae; his daughters, Johanna and Antonia Bennett; and 9 grandchildren.

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.