Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Music

Tony Bennett’s 10 greatest songs by Jewish songwriters

Irving Berlin and the Gershwins were among the many immortalized by the legendary singer

The legendary Tony Bennett, who died July 21 at the age of 96, would have earned a place in Jewish history even if he’d helped to liberate the Kaufering concentration camp at the close of World War II, as he did when he was better known as US Army infantryman Anthony Dominick Benedetto.

But throughout his eight-decade post-war career as a singer, performer and recording artist, Bennett regularly employed his melodic gifts and mellifluous phrasing in service of songs composed by many of the 20th century’s great Jewish songwriters. In fact, quite a few of the Jewish-penned numbers in Bennett’s discography were particularly significant for him — not just as chart hits, but as key career turning points and cornerstones of his lasting musical legacy.

In chronological order, here are 10 songs by Jewish songwriters that played an important role in Tony Bennett’s career.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

 

After making some unsuccessful late-1940s recordings under the name Joe Bari for the tiny Leslie label, the newly-rechristened Tony Bennett landed a contract with Columbia Records in 1950, based largely on his demo recording of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Columbia A&R director Mitch Miller had Bennett re-record the song with conductor Marty Manning for release as a single; though his fine version of the song failed to chart, “Boulevard” — originally recorded in 1933 by Deane Janis with Hal Kemp’s Orchestra, featuring the lyrics of Jewish songwriter Al Dubin — served notice that Columbia had acquired a new and noteworthy talent.

Because of You

 

Bennett achieved his first major hit with this dreamy, Percy Faith-conducted rendition of “Because of You,” which spent 10 weeks atop the Billboard charts in the late summer and early fall of 1951. The song, originally recorded over a decade earlier by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra, was co-written by Arthur Hammerstein, son of composer and theatrical impresario Oscar Hammerstein I.

Rags to Riches

 

In 1953, Bennett scored his third chart-topping hit with this ebullient romantic declaration, which was penned by the Jewish songwriting team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Though best known today for its use in the opening sequence of 1990’s Goodfellas, TV viewers of a certain age will also recall it as the theme song of supporting character Carmine “The Big Ragu” Ragusa from the ‘70s sitcom Laverne & Shirley.

Chicago

In the late 1950s, on the advice of accompanist Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett began gravitating away from pop songs and embracing jazzier material. Basie Swings, Bennett Sings, his 1959 collaboration with the Count Basie Orchestra, showcased Bennett’s ability to handle more complex songs and arrangements, with this sublimely swinging rendition of “Chicago” — penned in 1922 by German-born Jewish songwriter Fred Fisher — serving as one of the album’s standout tracks.

The Best is Yet to Come

 

Though it’s generally associated with Frank Sinatra (who has the title etched upon his tombstone), “The Best Is Yet To Come” was originally written for Bennett by the Jewish songwriting team of Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. Released as a single in 1961, three years before Sinatra recorded it, Bennett’s endearing version was later included on his million-selling 1962 album I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

Our Love is Here to Stay

 

 

On June 9th, 1962, Bennett became the first male pop performer to headline New York’s Carnegie Hall. The resulting album, the 2-LP live set Tony Bennett at Carnegie Hall, further demonstrated Bennett’s masterful way with everything from pop to jazz to the Great American Songbook, the latter of which was exemplified by his delightful performance of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”

If I Ruled the World

 

The British Invasion and other changes on the 1960s music scene increasingly crowded crooners like Tony Bennett off the pop charts. His 1965 recording of “If I Ruled the World,” originally from the 1963 West End musical Pickwick — whose music was written by British (and Jewish) conductor Cyril Ornadel — reached #34 on Billboard’s Hot 100, giving Bennett his final Top 40 entry.

White Christmas

 

1968’s Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album was recorded at a relative lull in Bennett’s career, and didn’t even manage to make the Billboard 200 upon its initial release. The album has since become rightly recognized as a holiday classic — with sales of over a million copies — thanks in part to the inclusion of this sigh-inducing recording of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

So Many Stars

 

After spending much of the 1970s struggling with drug addiction, the IRS and declining interest from the music business, Bennett cleaned up his act and launched a slow-building comeback in the 1980s. 1986’s The Art of Excellence, his first new album in seven years, garnered widespread critical acclaim for Bennett’s revitalized singing, the gorgeous orchestral arrangements of Jorge Calandrelli, and the spare, sympathetic backing of the Ralph Sharon Trio. The album includes compositions by numerous Jewish songwriters, including Jule Styne, Frank Loesser, Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwarts, Irving Berlin, Cy Coleman and the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the latter of whom co-wrote the contemplative “So Many Stars” with Sérgio Mendes.

Body and Soul

This enchanting duet between Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse was recorded on March 23, 2011, exactly four months before Winehouse’s tragic death at the age of 27. Along with it being her final recording, this rendition of the jazz standard (which was written in 1930 with music by Jewish composer Johnny Green, and words by Jewish lyricist Edward Heyman in collaboration with Robert Sour and Frank Eyton) reached #87 on Billboard’s Hot 100, making Bennett — who was 85 at the time — the oldest living artist to make the chart.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.