I called Tony Bennett when a humanitarian crisis loomed. It was 2006 and herders, supported by the Sudanese government, were laying waste to farm villages in Darfur, murdering men and boys and committing heinous atrocities against women. At the time, Tony was in the midst of a remarkable career resurgence, recording duets with Sting and Barbra Streisand and Tim McGraw. But there was no mention of career on our call. “I’ll meet you in New York!” he said, joining Meryl Streep in a campaign I launched called AID DARFUR. He went on to headline two fundraisers for me.

Tony, who died last month at the age of 96, was always going to the aid of someone or other. His signature song might have been “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” but Tony never lost heart nor his sense of right and wrong. In one of the books Tony wrote, he recounted something that stuck with him all his life, something that happened when he was a young man serving in Europe in World War II. Before the Battle of the Bulge, he was castigated by his commanding Army officer and then transferred because he was seen dining with a Black friend from New York. The sting of that injustice never left him. It fueled much of his generation-spanning activism.

In 1965, Tony got a call from Harry Belafonte. It was right after Bloody Sunday, a terrible day in our history. State troopers in Alabama, cheered on by Gov. George Wallace, had attacked peaceful civil rights marchers attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7 with tear gas, billy clubs and trampling horses as the nation watched on black-and-white television sets. When Martin Luther King later announced a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Tony’s friend Harry Belafonte started rallying friends from Hollywood and New York. “People are being slaughtered all over Alabama,” Belafonte told Tony, who soon flew in along with dozens of others.

The evening of March 24, the fourth night of the five-day march to Montgomery, came to be known as “The Night the Stars Came Out in Alabama” – Sammy Davis Jr., Shelley Winters, Leonard Bernstein, Peter, Paul and Mary, and scores of others appeared. But there was a problem. Tony and his musician friends were told by state troopers that they could not use any local stage – not if white and Black people were going to perform together. The group was determined, however, to cheer on the protesters gathered by King.

So they performed on the top of 18 wooden caskets brought in by a Black-owned funeral home. This unsteady stage was a jerry-rigged affair set amid a soaked field filled with thousands of weary marchers. Tony performed “Just in Time,” which, he later said, “seemed oddly appropriate.”

Tony Bennett won 20 Grammys, but unlike many musicians, he could also boast such a platinum record in civil rights.

John Edward Hasse, a renowned American music historian, once said of Tony Bennett, “Not very many singers, much less musicians, have achieved that kind of durability. He’s got a jazz musician’s phrasing and sense of timing, as well as a feeling for spontaneity.” Add to that, Tony Bennett had a durable heart of gold and a feeling of responsibility, touching lives not just with his music but his steady decency.

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