On government, humanism, and Tony Bennett

Reason #5,167 why government matters: because Tony Bennett is absolutely sublime*…

…and he wouldn’t be who he is if the G.I. Bill didn’t play a big part in his musical education. From an interview on NPR:

I had very good training. I was in the service […] in the Second World War. And when I came out under the GI Bill of Rights, they gave us the best teachers. Zolinski was secretary to Stanislavski, the Method acting teacher, of Russia; performed with him on the stage. Pietro diAngeo was my bel canto teacher to keep my voice in top shape. And Mimi Spear was right on 52nd Street and she told me, “Never imitate another singer. Just listen to musicians and find out how they phrase and how they feel about a song, and imitate them.” […] Very good advice.

(The transcription is mine, and I’m not entirely sure about those name spellings.)

Also interesting: in the same interview, Scott Simon hands him the perfect opportunity to do the “God’s creation is wonderful” boilerplate, but Bennett doesn’t take it. Instead he talks about nature and the universe, sans any hint of religion:

I love life. I wish I could communicate to the whole planet what a gift it is to be alive. […] I paint every day, and I keep learning that the master, as Rembrandt said, is Nature. And you keep looking at it and you keep trying to understand it; you can’t comprehend the height of creativeness that Nature has. What a gift it is to be part of the whole universe.

Spoken like David Attenborough, or any number of poetic atheists.

I’d always assumed that Bennett, as an Italian-American of his generation, was likely a conventionally religious man; and perhaps he is, and merely keeps his faith private — nothing wrong with that. But could he be a secular humanist? It’s not impossible; in a statement clarifying remarks he made about 9/11, he says this:

My life experiences — ranging from the Battle of the Bulge to marching with Martin Luther King — made me a life-long humanist and pacifist, and reinforced my belief that violence begets violence and that war is the lowest form of human behavior. I am sorry if my statements suggested anything other than an expression of my love for my country, my hope for humanity and my desire for peace throughout the world.

Who knows if he means “humanist” with a capital H; but I can’t help remembering that self-declared, bona-fide humanist Asa Philip Randolph also marched with King, and I wonder if Bennett is intentionally making that association.

In any case, I’m just having fun speculating; it doesn’t really matter to me whether Bennett is a man of quiet faith or of no faith at all. What a joy it is simply to hear him sing, and to know that he shares a deep sense of human solidarity and of connection with the universe in the here-and-now. Perhaps for him — certainly for me — that’s enough.

*Stevie Wonder is no slouch either.


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