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PBS to honor Tony Bennett in music special with star-studded performances

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA Washington, D.C., today announced the talent and broadcast plans for “Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song,” a PBS music special honoring Tony Bennett’s receipt of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The program will premiere Friday, January 12, 2018 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide (check local listings). The program will also be broadcast at a later date via the American Forces Network to American service men and women and civilians at U.S. Department of Defense locations around the world. Tony Bennett is the first “interpretive singer” to be the recipient of the Gershwin Prize.

The event, taping on November 15, 2017 at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., will feature performances by Bennett, as well as Chris Botti, Michael Bublé, Sheryl Crow, Michael Feinstein, Savion Glover, Josh Groban, Wé McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Vanessa Williams and a special presentation by Wynton Marsalis — with Bruce Willis as host and Gregg Field as music director (program subject to change). During the event, Bennett will be presented the Gershwin Prize by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, and a delegation of Members of Congress.

The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song is named in honor of the legendary songwriting team George and Ira Gershwin. The prize is given annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins. The Gershwin Prize was first awarded to Paul Simon in 2007, followed by Stevie Wonder in 2009, Sir Paul McCartney in 2010, the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 2012, Carole King in 2013, Billy Joel in 2014, Willie Nelson in 2015 and Smokey Robinson in 2016.

Bennett is an artist for all ages whose interpretations and re-interpretations have introduced new generations to the Great American Songbook. He is one of a handful of artists to have new albums charting in seven consecutive decades, beginning in the 1950s through the 2010s. Bennett celebrated his 90th birthday on August 3, and the milestone was highlighted with the broadcast of a television special, the release of a new CD and book, and the lighting of the Empire State Building honoring his musical legacy.

“WETA is proud to bring this year’s special performance honoring Tony Bennett to the American people in collaboration with the Library of Congress,” noted Rockefeller. “Sharing these special musical events with the wide public television audience across this country is our continuing honor.”

“Tony Bennett’s extraordinary career has left an indelible mark on music and culture in America,” said Paula A. Kerger, president and CEO of PBS. “As part of our commitment to present the best of the arts to the American public, PBS and our member stations are honored to recognize Tony’s contributions and share his cultural legacy.”

“CPB is pleased to support this program, celebrating and sharing with all Americans Tony Bennett’s enduring musical legacy,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “Broadcast of the Gershwin Prize is part of public media’s mission to provide high-quality content that educates, informs, engages, and inspires audiences of all generations.”

“Tony Bennett is one of the most accomplished and beloved artists of our time,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “His staying power is a testament to the enduring appeal of the Great American Songbook the Gershwins helped write, and his ability to collaborate with new generations of music icons has been a gift to music lovers of all ages.”

No one in American popular music has recorded for so long and at such a high level of excellence as Tony Bennett. His initial successes came via a string of Columbia singles in the early 1950s, including such chart-toppers as “Because of You,” “Rags to Riches” and a remake of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” He has had 24 songs in the Top 40, including “I Wanna Be Around,” “The Good Life,” “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” and his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” which garnered two GRAMMY Awards.

In the last 10 years alone, Bennett has sold 10 million records. He has received 19 GRAMMY Awards, including a 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award and a 1995 GRAMMY for Album of the Year for his MTV Unplugged, which introduced him to a whole new generation. Later, his 2006 Duets: An American Classic was released, featuring performances with Sir Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bono and others, winning three GRAMMY Awards and going on to be one of the best-selling CDs of the year and of Bennett’s career. The follow-up, the 2011 Duets II, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts, making Bennett the oldest artist — at the age of 85 — to achieve this in the history of recorded music. He broke this record three years later with his 2014 collaboration with Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek, which also debuted at No. 1 when he was 88.

Bennett was born in 1926 in Queens, New York. His father died when he was 10 years old and his mother, Anna, raised Tony and his older brother and sister, John and Mary. Bennett attended the High School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan, where he nurtured his two passions, singing and painting. From the radio, he developed a love of music listening to Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and James Durante. Bennett is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the liberation of a concentration camp. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma to support civil rights. He has performed for 11 U.S. presidents. The United Nations has named him a Citizen of the World as one of its foremost ambassadors. Among his honors, Bennett has been a Kennedy Center honoree (2005), an NEA Jazz Master (2006), and received Billboard magazine’s Century Award (2006).

Bennett and the other performing artists will be joined by a house band led by Gregg Field (Music Director/Drums), and including Shelly Berg (Piano), Nathan East (Bass), Edwin Bonilla (Percussion), Dean Parks (Guitar), Randy Waldman (Keys), Aaron Broadus (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Fred Irby, III (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Joe Jackson (Trombone), Brent Birckhead (Alto Saxophone/Flute/Alto Flute) and Scott Silbert (Tenor Saxophone/Flute/Alto Flute). Accompanying Tony Bennett will be Tom Ranier (Piano), Gray Sargent (Guitar), Harold Jones (Drums) and Marshall Wood (Bass).

“The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” has been produced by WETA for PBS since 2007, with the support of PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. From June 2007 to the most recent broadcast in February 2017, these events have honored the musical genius of Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Carole King, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, and Smokey Robinson. The talented line-ups celebrating the honorees have included Yolanda Adams, Marc Anthony, Tony Bennett, Boyz II Men, Wayne Brady, Edie Brickell, Leon Bridges, Elvis Costello, Gloria Estefan, Ana Gabriel, CeeLo Green, Faith Hill, Jamey Johnson, the Jonas Brothers, Diana Krall, Cyndi Lauper, Lyle Lovett, Martina McBride, John Mellencamp, Micah Nelson and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Corinne Bailey Rae, LeAnn Rimes, Emeli Sandé, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Spacey, Esperanza Spalding, James Taylor, Jack White, Will.i.am, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and Buckwheat Zydeco.

“Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” is a co-production of WETA Washington, D.C., Bounce AEG and The Library of Congress. The executive producers are Dalton Delan, Carla Hayden and Michael Strunsky. The producers are Bounce’s Tim Swift, Kristi Foley and, for the Library of Congress, Susan H. Vita. The director is Leon Knoles. The music director is Gregg Field. “Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” is made possible through the generous support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, and public television viewers. Funding is also provided by The James Madison Council of the Library of Congress, The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Fund, and The Leonore S. Gershwin Trust for the benefit of The Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Air transportation is provided by United Airlines.

For more information about “Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song,” visit www.pbs.org/Gershwin-Prize. An electronic press kit, including downloadable talent photos for promotional use, is available at www.pressroom.pbs.org. To follow “The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” on Twitter, use hashtag #PBSGershwin. More information on the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song can also be found at www.loc.gov/about/awards-and-honors/gershwin-prize/.

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