The classy legend died this weekend at 96. I won’t pretend to be an expert on his music — I know the same stuff you probably do — but this is a good story that is presumably illegal to tell in a Florida school:
In explaining the roots of his commitment to civil rights, Tony Bennett often told a story from his Army days, when he brought a Black soldier as his guest to Thanksgiving dinner, prompting a furious reprimand and a demotion.
It was 1945, three years before the end of segregation in the U.S. military, and Bennett, who had been drafted into World War II shortly after he had turned 18, happened to run into a high school friend and fellow serviceman in occupied Germany. As he brought the friend, Frank Smith, to the holiday meal in the white servicemen’s mess hall, an officer intercepted them in a rage, Bennett recalled in his 1998 autobiography.
“It was actually more acceptable to fraternize with the German troops than it was to be friendly with a fellow Black American soldier!” Bennett recalled in the book, “The Good Life.”
Bennett recalled that in that moment, the officer took out a razor blade and cut the corporal stripes from his uniform, spitting on them and throwing them to the floor. He was then assigned to dig up the bodies of soldiers in mass graves so that they could be reburied with more dignity.
“For a while the whole affair soured me on the human race,” Bennett remembered in the autobiography.