November 18, 2014 11:05 AM EST

Few figures in the annals of popular culture have enjoyed as long and as celebrated a career as the man born Anthony Dominick Benedetto in Long Island City, N.Y., in 1926. Known throughout the world by his working name, Tony Bennett, the Queens native has been singing professionally for seven-plus decades, from the 1940s onward, winning 17 Grammys and two Emmys. He’s received honorary doctorates at a half-dozen schools. He’s earned induction into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Recently, at 88, he even broke his own record as the oldest artist to top the Billboard charts, thanks to his Cheek to Cheek album with Lady Gaga.

Now, hard on the heels of that improbable achievement, LIFE Books has unveiled Tony Bennett: An Illustrated Biography, featuring rare and never-before-seen photos of the singer, his family and his famous musical peers — with many of the pictures culled from the vast Sony Music archives. (Bennett has spent his entire career with the same record company: it was called Columbia when he joined the label in 1950, and today it’s part of Sony Music Entertainment.)

Covering every aspect of Bennett’s life, from his boyhood in Queens to his experience as a G.I. in France during World War II to his lifelong advocacy for progressive causes, right down to his latest triumphs, the pictures in the book capture a quintessentially American life: as a grandson of immigrants and a child of the Depression, from an early age Tony Bennett knew poverty and want. But talent and a colossal work ethic — as well as (he admits) a bit of luck and an innate, candid charm — helped transform him into one of the world’s singular, most enduring entertainers.

As Robert Sullivan, LIFE Books’ managing editor and a long-time friend and collaborator of Bennett’s, notes in his introduction to the book, Tony Bennett “is not only a remarkable singer but a remarkable man with a life story that can now be fairly called a saga.”

Long may the saga run.


Tony Bennett, with a foreword by Martin Scorsese, is published by LIFE Books, as part of the “LIFE Unseen” series.

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