When legendary singer and accomplished painter Tony Bennett died on July 21 at age 96, he left behind an artistic legacy unparalleled among peers.

Even Frank Sinatra, whom Bennett called a close friend, famously said, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business.” After getting his start as a singing waiter in Italian restaurants, Bennett climbed the charts with early crooning hits like “Because of You” and “Rags to Riches.” He recorded his signature “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1962.

Fordham was proud to present Bennett with an honorary degree in 2012—not only for his unmatched talent but also for his commitment to justice and arts education.

Together with his wife, Susan Benedetto, FCLC ’90, GSE ’05, Bennett founded the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts in his hometown of Astoria, Queens. The couple also created a nonprofit called Exploring the Arts, dedicated to strengthening arts education in public schools in New York City and Los Angeles.

Bennett was also a civil rights activist, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and refusing to perform in apartheid South Africa.

But he will be best remembered for championing America’s songbook—not only in the early part of his career but also into the 2000s. The MTV generation loved his recordings of the old standards, including his wildly successful Duets albums, which feature collaborations with Bono, Amy Winehouse, and Lady Gaga, to name a few. The 2011 release of Duets II, in conjunction with his 85th birthday, made him the oldest living artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200.

“If something is good, it’s always good,” Bennett said in a 2011 interview. “You don’t have to change it.”