The beloved crooner scored one of his first hits with Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.”
As we bid a fond farewell to Tony Bennett, who passed away Friday in Manhattan at age 96, we’re reminded that the beloved crooner is widely credited with introducing Hank Williams in particular, and country music in general, to a wider mainstream national audience.
Bennett was a relative newbie in show business when, in 1951, Columbia Records producer Mitch Miller convinced him to record with Percy Faith and His Orchestra a lushly arranged cover of Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” This version of the song turned out to be an international pop hit — Bennett’s second single to hit the Billboard chart at No. 1, after “Because of You” — and encouraged many other pop artists of the day to follow Bennett’s lead.
“I had no idea that it would become so popular,” Bennett told Juli Thanki of The Tennessean in a 2016 interview.
Better still, Bennett’s recording pleased Hank Williams himself.
True, the Hillbilly Shakespeare famously prank-called the crooner to express mock-outrage: “Tony, why did you ruin my song?” But as Thanki reported: “According to Colin Escott’s biography of Williams, ‘Hank was tickled (by Bennett’s recording). He had always made a policy of spinning his own records on the jukebox in any restaurant he ate in; now he spun Tony Bennett’s record as well.’”
Ironically, Bennett was reluctant at first to record “Cold, Cold Heart,” and told Mitch Miller he would pass on the song because he was not “a country and western singer.” Miller reportedly replied: “You’ll sing this song if I have to tie you to a tree.” Bennett often shared this story with audiences, and capped it off thusly: “So, he tied me to a tree…”
Three years after Williams’ death in 1953, Bennett performed “Cold, Cold Heart” in his honor at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Over five decades later, Bennett recorded a duet of “Cold, Cold Heart” with country superstar Tim McGraw.
McGraw expressed on Instagram today his deep admiration for, and appreciation of, Tony Bennett.
Country music great Reba McEntire also took to Instagram to pay her respects to Tony Bennett.
One more time: In 2012, Bennett returned to the recording studio for his Viva Duets, an album that showcases his collaboration with award-winning Argentinian singer-songwriter Vicentico.
And lest we forget: Bennett recorded another classic tune with none other than Willie Nelson: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Take it away, guys.