A class of 12 students received a surprise visit from famed singer Tony Bennett Thursday.
With his tan, leathery skin and silver hair, the musical legend sat in the corner of a media class, held in GW Vice President for Communications Michael Freedman’s office. The singer, who has won 10 Grammy awards in his more than 50-year career, contributed to Freedman’s Radio News History class’ discussion on the importance of radio in American culture.
Bennett said radio is a “more fulfilling” medium than television because a family could listen together but still have to use their imagination to interpret the information.
“To me, it’s a much more creative process than television,” said Bennett, who received an honorary degree at GW’s Commencement in 2001.
Bennett told the class, primarily made up of journalism students, that he understands the fast-paced news industry. As a high school student, he worked for the Associated Press, running news ticker tape between reporters.
“I was on the track team, and they said I wasn’t running fast enough,” he said.
The class discussion was interspersed with student questions about Bennett’s career.
Junior Evan Gottschalk asked the performer what it is like going into the recording studio with a contemporary artist.
Bennett said contemporary artists make the studio their “hangout” for weeks or months at a time, while he is used to planning outside of the studio for a few months before recording for two to three days.
He added that newer artists tend to become “obsolete” quickly.
“(It used to take) years to become institutionalized, whereas today, they just start an artist on top,” Bennett said. “Musicians should be producers, not lawyers and accountants and businessmen … (Record companies) don’t give a chance for young artists to grow.”
Junior Vanessa Maltin asked Bennett who he thought would be the most enduring contemporary artist.
“The more honest an artist is, the more the artist lasts,” he said.
Bennett said that he loves contemporary singer K.D. Lang, whom he compared to Judy Garland.
Students in the class said they were surprised when Bennett walked into the class.
“I was in shock,” senior Robert Marting said. “I still don’t know what to think. Here’s Tony Bennett in my radio class.”
Freedman said he has been friends with Bennett for about six years, and pre-arranged the singer’s visit a day before the class session.