Stars come out on PBS for “Tony Bennett Duets II”

There’s a moment in his duet with Michael Buble when Tony Bennett sings the lyrics “Baby, I don’t get around anymore.” Fortunately for all of us, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This rousing collaboration is just one of many in the PBS Great Performances series Tony Bennett Duets II airing tonight at 9pm ET (check your local listings). And it’s just further evidence that no singer in history has perfected the cross-over appeal more than Bennett himself.

For those who doubt that statement, you only need to tune in tonight for proof. Whether it’s teaming up with a fellow crooner like Buble or a pop sensation like Lady Gaga (pictured with Bennett), Bennett is able to blend his incredible voice and style without compromising his integrity.

At one point in his duet with Gaga, he laughs when she changes the lyrics to a classic to “That’s why this chick is a tramp.” He also seems at ease teaming up with country stars (Willie Nelson), classically trained performers (Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban) and even soulful singers (Queen Latifah).

Perhaps most intriguing about tonight’s show, though, is his pairing with the late Amy Winehouse.

“I was playing Royal Albert Hall for two nights in Great Britain,” Bennett recounted to journalists at a press conference earlier this year, about meeting Winehouse, “and she came back with her dad and her boyfriend. And she said, ‘You know, two years ago I won a Grammy, and I wasn’t excited about winning the Grammy, but that Tony Bennett announced it.’ She was a big fan of mine, and I was very surprised because she was so young, but then I found out — I started listening from Elvis Presley on to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the whole new era opposite Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole and Sinatra, who was 10 years my elder, and I was listening. Who were the singers that really sing traditionally correct? And it ended up being Amy. She just had the gift of knowing how to sing as good, and was influenced by, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, and she just — her dream was to become very, very famous doing that.

“I wanted to — I was doing my 85th birthday at the Palladium, and BBC was televising it, and I wanted [Amy] on the show. But my son called up two months after we did the [Duets] record and tragically told me that she died, and the whole world went, ‘woof.'”

Talented beyond her years but tormented with a well-documented addiction problem, there is something really special about seeing Winehouse at a much happier time in her life, performing with Bennett. Then again, that shouldn’t surprise anybody, because Tony Bennett has been making all of us happy for decades on end.


Photo courtesy of Kelsey Bennett