We’ve lost Tony Bennett. He died July 21, just two weeks short of his 97th birthday, at his home in New York City, where he lived most of his years—so much for leaving his heart in that other city by the Bay. “He loved New York,” so says The New York Times.
Bennett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s only in 2016—nary a hint of it showed 10 years ago, when he came to Manila. Vergel and I watched him at a PICC Plenary packed with seniors like us. He left us all in awe with his lung power as he belted out one of his hits without microphone—at 86!
I cannot help but compare it with Sinatra’s concert at the Folk Arts Theater in 1994. It was almost painful to watch him, close to losing it, although there were enough golden moments when he found his groove and some of his old self. Even for just those moments it was well worth the night. The year after, he would have his last concert in Palm Springs, before he lost it for good.
There’ll never be another Sinatra nor another Bennett. They were one of a kind. I was, however, touched—and my husband was not the least surprised—when Sinatra admitted to a movie and music reviewer that Bennett was his favorite entertainer. I guess I became a late fan of Bennett’s, possibly because of Vergel’s influence or because he stayed around so long he grew on me. Sinatra died at 82, in 1998, after a heart attack, just about when Bennett’s comeback was being launched.
Bennett didn’t only sing; he wrote an autobiography, “The Good Life,” recalling his service in the war, when he thought he would surely die. He obviously lived, but the war gave him an inspiring experience: he met Bob Hope. Soon, he was himself singing to the troops. He painted, too, and Facebook attests to his high aptitude and skills at it.
Only from postmortem tributes have I known Bennett went through his own dark years—through the ’70s and ’80s. He ran into financial difficulties and turned to cocaine. It wasn’t until 1999 that he reached out to his older son, Danny, who got him back on his feet. Danny was a 25-year-old rocker, complete with long dyed blue hair and without a college degree. He became his dad’s manager.
Danny never stopped believing in him, indeed envisioned him going off as a legend. He used his savvy with MTV. After masterful performances in that medium and on late-night talk shows, his dad’s career was revived and he won another Grammy, his 20th, in 2021, for a tribute to Cole Porter with Lady Gaga, which they did live in two shows at Radio City. They were to be his last public performances.
Harvey Mason Jr., songwriter, film producer and CEO of The Recording Academy, recognized that ”Tony Bennett was an iconic, once-in-a-generation voice in American music.”
Bennett’s voice just had to be heard again. He never even had to change his singing style. He stuck to what he knew and did best—croon, and even the younger generation loved it. Soon he was singing duets with younger artists, and when he watched Lady Gaga at her own concert, he wanted to sing with her, too. The rest is history.
Bennett outlived many of his contemporaries. Nobody, just nobody, croons like the old guys. Bennett’s voice itself was distinct, instantly recognizable, never to be mistaken for anyone else’s. And so it was with disbelief, when my husband and I heard there was someone whose voice you could mistake his for. This young, very-masculine type local was doing him effortlessly and unbelievably worthily.
His name was Arthur Manuntag. He was also so versatile he could do Sinatra. Huge and hefty, probably six feet tall, he had a gentle face on which a smile was quick to form. He wore black most of the time and combed his long dark hair neatly back into a low pony tail.
Manuntag was the next best thing to hearing Bennett himself. Vergel and I sought him out and caught him often enough for him and Vergel to have enjoyed a casual friendship. Manuntag had a souvenir photo with Bennett on his website. All too soon, and out of turn, Bennett’s would-be heir died young in 2018, at 45, never recovering from a coma after a heart attack.
In that sense, we fans have lost Bennett twice.