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Tony Bennett — no, not that one — shines at ‘Honor the Future’ concert

The 93-year-old, 19-time Grammy award winner stopped by the Rotunda Saturday night to perform some of his hits

<p>Tony Bennett performs in front of the Rotunda at the "Honor the Future" campaign event.</p>

Tony Bennett performs in front of the Rotunda at the "Honor the Future" campaign event.

As part of the myriad of festivities occurring over the weekend for the University’s “Honor the Future: The Campaign for the University of Virginia” event, legendary singer Tony Bennett was invited to perform a special show on the steps of the Rotunda Saturday night. Bennett is an icon in the music world, having sold more than 50 million records and earning two Emmys and 19 Grammys — including the Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been performing since the 1950s and has shown no signs of slowing down, having toured with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, as recently as 2015. 

While the concert mainly drew in alumni attending fundraising events for the University and Charlottesville locals, there were pockets of students that attended. Second-year College student Erin Rafferty explained that the accessibility of the event was one reason why she attended.

“I really appreciated that it was a free event and something different to do on a Saturday night,” she said. “I like listening to jazz sometimes and I figured this would be fun because it’s not normally the kind of music I listen to. Plus, my mom really loves Tony Bennett.”

Despite Bennett’s status as one of the most iconic performers in the industry, there were noticeably empty seats scattered throughout the audience. Marketing towards students for this event was somewhat subdued. The main promotion for the performance was a series of emails sent out to the student body, where the singer’s event took up only one sentence. This concert felt like it was more for the donors and alumni of the University rather than the current students, thus missing the chance to expose a talent like Tony Bennett to a new generation of fans.  

The Grammy winner was given a special introduction by another legend — at least by University standards — basketball coach Tony Bennett, much to the delight of the crowd. Bennett wasted no time delving into his hits, singing “Rags to Riches,” “Just in Time,” and ending with a crowd-favorite, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He sang with his longtime quartet, Lee Musiker on the piano, Gray Sargent on the guitar, Harold Jones on the drums and Marshall Wood on the bass. Bennett barely stopped to say thank you in between each set, instead choosing to let the songs speak for themselves. He transitioned from song to song with a flow that let the listeners to easily shift from one song to the next, and a fast cadence allowed the audience to fully immerse in each performance without getting bored. 

At 93, Bennett kept his set mellifluous and his audience engaged. His voice has grown weathered over his decades in show business, contrasting from the smooth singing he was once known for. The raspiness and aged quality of his voice adds a new layer of meaning to Bennett’s songs, giving them a sense of vulnerability and poignancy. The setlist reflected his incredible longevity, referencing his age in songs like “I’m Old Fashioned,” where he smiled gently after singing “I know I'm old fashioned / But I don't mind it / That's how I want to be / As long as you agree / To stay old fashioned with me.”

Though Bennett makes light of his age in his songs, he also conveys a twinge of sadness, adding the weight of the years that have passed to each song and gently pleading with the audience to stay with him. His set was lined with nostalgia, as Bennett wooed people in with his familiar and now-raspy voice, inviting them to listen and reminisce. The polish and subtlety behind some of the songs may be gone, but Bennett’s power and ability to emote reigns supreme. The listeners know that he has lived every word he sings, from the youthful sparks of love to aged heartbreak.