In 2014, Lady Gaga teamed up with the now-94-year-old music legend Tony Bennett for their Grammy-winning collaborative album Cheek To Cheek. The pair has a follow-up to that album on the way this year, but recording sessions weren’t always easy, which led to at least one emotional moment for Gaga.
Bennett is the subject of a new AARP profile, which reveals that the singer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. The piece also reveals that Gaga and Bennett recorded a new album between 2018 and early 2020 and that the project is “finally being prepared for release this spring.” The feature then notes that Bennett was traditionally a demanding perfectionist in the studio before telling a heartbreaking story about his latest sessions with Gaga:
“But Tony was a considerably more muted presence during the recording of the new album with Gaga. In raw documentary footage of the sessions, he 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.”
The piece then notes that Bennett will likely not be as present in promoting the album as he was with his and Gaga’s first one: “The new LP offers lush, gorgeous duets, with both singers in superb voice. But there is one duty, in connection with the record, that Tony is manifestly not able to perform: promotional interviews. (When I asked him, ‘Are you excited about the new record with Gaga?’ he stared at me silently.) This has left those in charge of Tony’s life and career — chiefly [son] Danny [Bennett] and [wife] Susan [Bennett] — in a quandary. Eager for as many ears as possible to hear and enjoy what may very well be the last Tony Bennett record, they have jointly decided to break the silence around his condition, a decision they have, necessarily, had to make without Tony’s input, since he is, Susan said, incapable of understanding the disease, let alone making momentous decisions about whether to publicly disclose it.”
The feature isn’t all sad stories about Bennett, though. Dr. Gayatri Devi, the neurologist who diagnosed Bennett, is impressed by the singer’s functional abilities, saying, “[He has] cognitive issues, but multiple other areas of his brain are still resilient and functioning well. He is doing so many things, at 94, that many people without dementia cannot do. He really is the symbol of hope for someone with a cognitive disorder.”
Read the full feature here.