Tony Bennett has recorded a second studio album with Chromatica queen Lady Gaga, but the circumstances couldn’t have been more different.
The 94-year-old music legend has been battling Alzheimer’s disease in secret for four years, his family revealed in a heartbreaking new feature from AARP magazine. According to his wife, Susan Bennett, Tony was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease in 2016. It has steadily progressed, leaving him with short-term and long-term memory loss and “increasingly rare moments of clarity and awareness.”
Before his illness, Tony was a standout performer and recording artist with a reputation for being “meticulous and a hard-driving perfectionist” in the recording studio. The 20-time Grammy winner is best known for his 1950s pop hits like “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.” He’s also beloved for Cheek to Cheek, his critically acclaimed collaboration with Gaga that scored them both a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Album in 2015.
As some eagle-eyed Gaga fans have pointed out, AARP’s feature also revealed that Mother Monster recorded a second album with Tony during a series of spaced-out studio sessions between 2018 and 2020. (This was partly due to Gaga’s schedule since the A Star Is Born actress was busy being…well, a star.)
But Tony’s illness complicated the recording process and completely changed his demeanor:
In raw documentary footage of the sessions, [Tony] speaks rarely, and when he does his words are halting; at times, he seems lost and bewildered. Gaga, clearly aware of his condition, keeps her utterances short and simple (as is recommended by experts in the disease when talking to Alzheimer’s patients). “You sound so good, Tony,” she tells him at one point. “Thanks,” is his one-word response. She says that she thinks “all the time” about their 2015 tour. Tony looks at her wordlessly. “Wasn’t that fun every night?” she prompts him. “Yeah,” he says, uncertainly. The pain and sadness in Gaga’s face is clear at such moments — but never more so than in an extraordinarily moving sequence in which Tony (a man she calls “an incredible mentor, and friend, and father figure”) sings a solo passage of a love song. Gaga looks on, from behind her mic, her smile breaking into a quiver, her eyes brimming, before she puts her hands over her face and sobs.
Tony and Gaga’s follow-up to Cheek to Cheek is “being prepared for release this spring.” Until then, we’re sending love to Tony, his family, and his longtime friend, Gaga.