The ASCAP Foundation honored vocal great Tony Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto, with The ASCAP Foundation Champion Award for their longtime leadership in the effort to make arts education a priority in the nation's public schools. The accolade was presented during the Foundation's 15th Annual Awards Ceremony, held at the Allen Room, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, in New York City. The invitation-only event, hosted by ASCAP Foundation President Paul Williams, also honored a wide variety of Scholarship and Award recipients, all of whom benefit from programs of The ASCAP Foundation.
In 1999, Tony Bennett and Susan Benedetto founded Exploring the Arts, a nonprofit organization with the mission of strengthening the role of the arts in public education. Exploring the Arts has grown from serving one New York public high school in its early years to serving seven public high schools in 2010. Exploring the Arts also supports the New York City Department of Education's Summer Arts Institute and produces an educational video series, helping bring master artists into classrooms all over the country. In 2001, in partnership with the New York City Department of Education, Susan Benedetto and Tony Bennett also founded a new public high school, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, in Astoria, Queens.
Tony Bennett was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in the Astoria section of Queens, New York, the child of an immigrant family. He was given his first big break by Bob Hope in 1949, who invited the young Benedetto to sing at the New York Paramount and renamed him Tony Bennett. Bennett's initial fame came via a string of Columbia singles in the early 1950s, including such chart-toppers as "Because of You," "Rags To Riches" and a cover of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart." He has placed two-dozen 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 hit, "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," which earned him two Grammy Awards. Over the years, he has been the recipient of fifteen Grammys. He introduced a multitude of songs into the Great American Songbook that have since become pop music standards. He has toured the world to sold-out audiences, winning rave reviews whenever he performs. Tony Bennett became a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2005, and was named an NEA Jazz Master in January of 2006. Throughout his career, Tony Bennett has always put his heart and time into humanitarian and environmental concerns. The Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta bestowed upon him their "Salute to Greatness Award" for his efforts to fight discrimination. In 2007, the United Nations presented him with their 2007 Humanitarian Award.
Susan Benedetto is originally from the San Francisco Bay area. She has received degrees in History, Social Studies Education and Supervision/Administration from Fordham University and Columbia University's Teachers College. She has taught Social Studies at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts in Manhattan, served as Assistant Principal of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and currently serves as President of Exploring the Arts.
To celebrate the award to Susan and Tony, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Chamber Singers, led by Heidi Best, performed a rendition of one of Tony's signature songs, "The Best is Yet to Come."