Entertainer Tony Bennett is remembered in Atlanta for his support of civil rights

Early in his career, Bennett was mentored by comedian Bob Hope, who convinced the young singer to shorten his given name from Anthony Dominick Benedetto to Tony Bennett, according to NPR.

Credit: Robb D. Cohen / robbsphotos.com

Credit: Robb D. Cohen / robbsphotos.com

Early in his career, Bennett was mentored by comedian Bob Hope, who convinced the young singer to shorten his given name from Anthony Dominick Benedetto to Tony Bennett, according to NPR.

Tony Bennett, known throughout the world for his music, is less known for his work to advance civil rights and fight racism.

In Atlanta, he has a spot on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. He was honored by the King Center in 2002 with the Salute to Greatness award for his lifelong support of civil rights.

“Tony is not only one of America’s premier performing artists, but he was a deeply committed friend and supporter of my husband and the civil rights movement,” Coretta Scott King said in announcing the 2002 award. “He has continued to support the efforts of the King Center to fulfill Martin’s dream, along with so many other great causes.”

Bennett, known for such signature songs as as “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” died Friday at the age of 96.

His profile on the Walk of Fame website noted his support for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “He was … a devoted follower of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of love and non – violence,” the profile says.

The Walk of Fame, part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Downtown Atlanta, pays tribute to civil rights advocates, including former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and the late Congressman John Lewis. Each marker includes an imprint of the honoree’s footsteps.

From a web page about Tony Bennett on the the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame (NPS.gov)

Credit: Special

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Credit: Special

Bennett and his friend Harry Belafonte were among a group of entertainers who joined the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. On the final night of the march, Bennett and Belafonte performed in a concert for the protesters at the City of St. Jude complex near Montgomery. Also performing, according to AP, were Peter, Paul and Mary; Sammy Davis Jr. and Joan Baez.

When Bennett left Alabama, according to an AJC profile, he was driven to the airport by volunteer Viola Liuzzo, who was later shot and killed by four members of the Ku Klux Klan.

In a 2002 interview with the AJC’s Richard Eldredge, Bennett said he was “over the moon” about the award from the King Center and said it represented values he had held his entire life.

In the profile, Eldredge wrote:

He says his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was determined that his family live in the ethnically varied area of Astoria, N.Y. “He said that America was the great melting pot and that’s where he wanted to live.”

Recently [in 2002], Belafonte and Bennett had a chance to reminisce about the 1965 march. “He told me, ‘Tony, I’ve been an activist my whole career, and I was always told, ‘’It’s going to hurt your career,’’ and yet here I am,’ " says Bennett.

“Harry just reaffirmed for me that we’re all political animals when injustice is happening. We’re all such a small speck in the face of the universe. Every single person on this planet is important and should be respected equally. As Billy Eckstine told me that day in Selma, ‘Hey, if this country doesn’t work, the world isn’t going to work.’ "