Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga:  How Music Defeats Alzheimer’s

By Shlomo  Maital

    You need to be an old guy like me to know who Tony Bennett is.  Anthony Dominick Benedetto, born August 3, 1926, known as Tony Bennett, is an American singer of traditional pop standards, big band, show tunes, and jazz.  He fought as a US infantryman in Europe at the end of World War II, and had his first hit, “Because of You”, in 1951! Yes, he just turned 95.  And alas, he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (dementia) since 2015. 

    But he’s still crooning.   And holds a Guinness record.  Oldest singer to have a #1 album.  With Lady Gaga’s help.  Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have recorded two stunning jazz albums: Cheek to Cheek (2014) and Love for Sale (2021).

     On a National Public Radio program, Nate Chinen, WGBO, recounts how “Lady Gaga was seeking a certain validation as a singer — and having the Bennett benediction, so to speak, really put her in a different light. There’s nowhere to hide, musically, when you’re singing in this style. And as for Tony Bennett: he was 88 when Cheek to Cheek topped the charts in 2014, which made him the oldest artist ever to score a No. 1 album. According to Guinness, that’s a record he still holds.”  There is a 60-year age difference between them.

    Bennett and Lady Gaga gave a Bennett “farewell concert” at Radio City two months ago.  Bennett’s wife and caregiver, Susan, recounts:  “It was the last situation in which Tony could still be Tony and have a true understanding of who he is. And this is what I do, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And I can connect with my audience. And just in that moment, he understood exactly what was going on. Now, prior to singing, and then when he gets offstage, he would not necessarily know where he was or why he was there. And he couldn’t even tell you if he sang or not. But in that moment, you can just tell: all the mannerisms and the music, everything just comes right back. There’s something so wonderful and mysterious about that.”

    It is well-known that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s, and dementia in general, often are greatly helped and comforted by music, especially music that is familiar.  After singing classic songs for 70 years, since 1951,  Bennett has very well-worn grooves in his brain for all those songs he recorded: 61 studio albums, 11 live albums, 33 compilation albums, three video albums, one extended play and 83 singles.  And all that terrible Alzheimer’s plaque doesn’t stand a chance against those well-worn musical grooves.

   Well done, Lady Gaga.  She has the last word:  “When I think about Tony and his last album, I have nothing but reverence, love and respect for him. I think I may always cry about this. I don’t think it will ever go away. And I don’t know that I want it to. I think that pain lives where pain belongs. And Tony has always inspired me to use it. So I’m going to keep using this magic in my life. And just share with you that even when hard things happen, you can witness a miracle. And watching Tony sing onstage was a real miracle for us all. When he was well, and when he had Alzheimer’s.”