Singer Antonia Bennett and her Israeli husband not only have their love to keep them warm. They are also expecting a Jewish grandchild for her father, legendary crooner, Tony Bennett.
In 2013, Bennett converted to Judaism around the same time that she married Ronen Helmann, a native Israeli currently residing in Los Angeles.
This year, while expecting, Bennett carries on the family tradition of performing a series of holiday concerts of American standards and jazz, as well as pop alternatives. She is slated to take the stage December 18th at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennesee and December 20th at The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, Texas.
“I feel privileged to be able to make a living with something that I love to do,” Bennett told The Times of Israel. “So many people do not get that opportunity. It’s a blessing. I have been singing my whole life… Every night I get to stand on stage and do what I love is a high point.”
‘Every night I get to stand on stage and do what I love’
Surprised when people ask her what she does with her spare time, Bennett explains that music is central to her life.
“Everyone has something that they’re good at. Singing is what I am good at,” Bennett says. “Even though I have lots of interests, music fills up the majority of my time. Whether I am with my family or friends, music always comes into the picture. Whatever I am doing my mind always seems to drift back to thinking about it because, well, it’s just what I like.”
With good reason. The New York Times compared her sweet and sometimes sultry voice to that of Billie Holliday, Rickie Lee Jones and even a hint of Betty Boop.
“Music is a form of expression,” she says. “It’s my favorite way of communication.”
Bennett performs standards as well as alternatives from her three albums. The influence of her father, whose signature song is “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” has been pivotal, Bennett says.
“Having a father that is so good at what he does is incredible. I am constantly learning from him. I have the privilege of working with him, so I get to watch him night after night. He believes In just singing the best songs. He never compromises on quality. He has set the bar very high.”
Bennett favorites among her father’s celebrated repertoire include “If I Ruled the World,” “Lost in the Stars,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” and, of course, “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Her other musical influences include the legends, jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, the “Queen of Jazz” Ella Fitzgerald and jazz pianists Bill Evans and Nat King Cole.
Bennett’s mother, actress Sandra Grant, was married to Tony Bennett from 1971 to 2007. She has been performing since childhood. As the youngest of his children, Bennett says, “My parents always exposed me to music as well as all the arts. I was surrounded by musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors at a very young age.”
That roster included such greats as Count Bassie, with whom she appeared on stage, as well as her father’s friends and colleagues: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, Rosemary Clooney, Les Paul and the aforementioned Fitzgerald.
“There is no way I could have not been shaped by all the great talent around me,” she says. “I am constantly surrounded by great talent.”
Of course, that’s not all that has played a part in who she is today.
“I grew up in LA and New York so I was always surrounded by Jews,” she says. “I have Jewish cousins and being Jewish never seemed so far off to me.”
A native of LA, Bennett studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York. When she returned west, she moved to Hancock Park, a neighborhood with a large concentration of Orthodox synagogues and other resources.
“I would sit in on classes from time to time,” Bennett says. After meeting her future husband, she decided to “go through the conversion process.”
“Being Jewish has been very good for me,” she says. “It keeps me grounded and connects me to God… I connect through daily prayer, mitzvot and trying to be present in the moment with my thoughts and actions.”
These days, she and her husband are regulars at the West LA’s Carlebachian, Orthodox Happy Minyan.
“I love the Pico-Robertson community,” Bennett says. “It is warm and embracing. There are all kind of Jews there practicing at different levels. There is something for everyone.”
Her passions include not only her husband, but his native land.
“I love Israel, the Israeli people. I am married to one,” Bennett says. “My husband always has one foot in Israel. We have family there. It is an amazing country.”
Despite the demands of travel, Bennett finds her work an opportunity to connect to something greater.
“It’s a little hard to explain and it depends greatly on the song I am singing,” she says. “Every song is like a short play. The words and melodies I sing bring great meaning to me, and hopefully that is transmitted to the audience as well. Overall, I find it very healing.”
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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