The Philanthropic Legacy of Tony Bennett

From the founding of an arts school in Astoria, Queens, to his support for numerous charitable organizations, these are some of Bennett's most notable philanthropic contributions.

Tony Bennett, who died on July 21 at age 96, not only left behind a monumental music career spanning generations and genres but also a legacy of impactful philanthropy. The same passion that earned him twenty Grammy Awards and produced iconic hits like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was equally evident in his numerous charitable efforts over the years.

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Tony Bennett, dressed in suit, wave to crowd while performing onstage
Tony Bennett performing at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards in 2015. JP Yim/Getty Images

Bennett, who fought Alzheimer’s disease for the better part of a decade, supported causes ranging from arts education to medical research and environmental awareness. The New York native’s consistent fundraising efforts even earned him the nickname “Tony Benefit” in the 1990s.

The Rainforest Foundation, Walden Woods Project and Juvenile Diabetes Foundation were just some of the organizations that saw Bennett perform at benefits. The singer discussed his work at the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, for which he raised millions¬† throughout his career, at a 1999 Senate hearing on diabetes among youth. “I don’t consider myself an expert on diabetes but I had enough first-hand experience with those who have suffered its consequences to know what havoc it can wreak on the human body,” said Bennett, who witnessed his grandson and fellow musicians Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby Hackett suffer from the disease. Bennett also established his own research fund at the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, later donating concert tickets and paintings to a 2010 auction raising money for a juvenile diabetes cure.

Tony Bennett and Elton John perform onstage wearing fedoras
Tony Bennett and Elton John at a 1999 benefit for the Rainforest Foundation. Scott Gries/Getty Images

Bennett was also a prolific painter, with a painting hanging in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and works commissioned by the United Nations and Kentucky Derby. For nearly the past three decades, he utilized his artistic skills by creating original artwork for the American Cancer Society’s annual holiday greeting card. As of 2018, the proceeds of Bennett’s cards had raised more than $800,000 for cancer research.

The legendary singer was given the Humanitarian Award in 2007 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the same year he helped fundraise for victims of violence in Darfur, Sudan. He was also awarded the Salute to Greatness Award from the Martin Luther King Center for his championing of civil rights, which included marching with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Bennett has additionally supported mental health initiatives, donating the proceeds of his 2011 “Body and Soul” cover duet with Amy Winehouse towards the foundation established in her name. And in 2012, he hosted two charity events in Miami that raised nearly $500,000 toward organizations focused on arts education and tennis programs for youth.

The Frank Sinatra School of Arts

Perhaps the most notable charitable gift from Bennett was conceived of back in 1999, when the singer and his wife Susan Benedetto became interested in establishing a high school focused on the arts. With support from the New York City Department of Education, the couple founded the Frank Sinatra School of Arts in 2001. Located in Astoria, Queens, where Bennett was born and raised, the public school was named as a tribute to his close friend and fellow musical icon. In a 2003 interview, Bennett cited the number of musicians originating from Queens, such as Louis Armstrong and Ethel Merman, while discussing the institute. “We look across the East River at the Empire State Building and we dream of doing great things,” he said.

Tony Bennett, dressed in suit, stands in school hallway with group of high schoolers
Tony Bennett with students of the Frank Sinatra School of Music in 2006. David Corio/Getty Images

In an Instagram post earlier this week, the Frank Sinatra School of Arts said that its thousands of students “are forever changed” because of Bennett. “His passion for the arts was unbridled and he wanted to be certain his legacy was for young people to have an opportunity to learn and share their art with the world.”

After it opened its doors, Bennett continued to support the school’s art program and scholarship opportunities through his nonprofit Exploring the Arts, which he launched to fund the institution’s creation. The organization has since expanded to partner with 56 schools across New York and Los Angeles, giving out more than $3 million to schools suffering from arts budget cuts or serving high-need communities.

“Tony’s influence has left an indelible mark on our students, families, schools, staff and communities,” said Exploring the Arts, which recently established a fund in Bennett’s honor, in a statement. “His extraordinary legacy will continue through Exploring the Arts, inspiring future generations of artists.”

The Philanthropic Legacy of Tony Bennett