What is ‘The Great American Songbook’ that Tony Bennett Championed?

Now that the great standards singer Tony Bennett has passed away, it is time to look back at what the man who swooned generations of people championed so fiercely, the so-called “Great American Songbook.”

On Friday, Bennett died at the age of 96, according to NBC News. Though a cause of death was not provided, he was said to have died in his New York home after a years-long private struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. The singer made an impact on pop culture in every decade since his breakthrough to stardom in the 1950s. This has included contributions of “a multitude of songs into the Great American Songbook that have since become standards for pop music,” according to his website, but just what is the Great American Songbook?

Is the Great American Songbook a literal book?

The Great American Songbook that Tony Bennett advocated for so strongly in his lifetime is not a physical book, but rather, the name given to a canon of American music. The combination of jazz standards, Broadway and film musical hits, and pop classics from the first half of the 20th Century is what Bennett called the “classical music” of America, according to a 2010 interview with the Winston-Salem Journal.

Some of the artists included in this musical canon include not only Bennett himself, but Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole, among many others, according to The Great American Songbook Foundation. Cole Porter, another contributor to the Songbook, was the highlighted artist for Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga‘s 2021 album, Love for Sale, for instance.

According to Songbook Foundation, “the songs published during the Golden Age of this genre include those popular and enduring tunes from the 1920s to the 1950s that were created for Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and Hollywood musical film.” Another name for this type of music is known as “American Standards.”

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