In a year that has taken some of music’s greatest from us, there’s been at least one bright spot: 2016 has been a yearlong celebration of Tony Bennett turning 90. His birthday was back in August, but in mid-September artists gathered at Radio City Music Hall for a concert paying tribute to the 19-time Grammy winner, who’s heading back out on the road in February. Alec Baldwin hosted the event, as Tony Bennett, and it airs tonight as part of NBC’s tribute special Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come. Yahoo TV was on the scene. Here are five reasons you should watch:
1. Lady Gaga steals the show
She opens the evening with “The Lady Is a Tramp,” and while she works the stage more than anyone will the rest of the night, it’s her return later in the show, to perform “La Vie en Rose” (pictured above) that is truly stunning. With so many performances to cram into the two-hour broadcast, hopefully NBC will find time to include her intro to the song, during which Gaga explained that Bennett is the person she calls when she needs to talk someone but doesn’t want to worry her parents.
2. Stevie Wonder is a close second
In the night’s most moving segment, Stevie Wonder spoke of Tony Bennett joining his friend Harry Belafonte for the historic civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, then performed “Visions.” He also brought the tempo back up with “Sir Duke,” pictured, and ended the evening leading an all-star “Happy Birthday” sing-along to Bennett.
3. Andrea Bocelli sings “Ave Maria”
His voice alone on that song is special, but add in the sweet sound of a children’s choir, Voices of Haiti, and the glow you’ll feel is enough to warm a cold December night.
4. Singular voices abound
Also in the lineup: Rufus Wainwright (singing a slow, dreamy version of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”), Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. (“Autumn Leaves”), Michael Bublé (“The Good Life”), Diana Krall (“I’ve Got the World on a String”), k.d. lang (“A Kiss to Build a Dream On”), and, why not, Kevin Spacey (a medley of “The Very Thought of You” and “If I Ruled the World”). Performances taped another time: Billy Joel (whom Bennett joined for a show-stopping duet of “New York State of Mind” at Madison Square Garden), Elton John (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”), and Bob Dylan (“Once Upon a Time”).
5. Bennett still has it
Bennett himself performed a number of songs that evening. “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” are the three that make the special. If there’s any doubt that — at 90 — he’s someone you still need to see in concert, just listen to him hit those powerful, chill-inducing notes at the end of that last one, as he stretches out those final words: “With any luck then I suppose, the music never ends.”
Bonus: Phony Bennett makes his triumphant return.
Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come airs Dec. 20 at 9 p.m. on NBC. A companion CD to the special featuring musical performances from the broadcast has also been released. A deluxe three-CD package, which includes the companion CD plus two additional CDs featuring rare and never-before-released archival studio and live Tony Bennett recordings, is available exclusively on Amazon.