Lady Gaga shares the joys and heartbreak of making new album with Tony Bennett as he battles Alzheimer's

Lady Gaga first met Tony Bennett a decade ago, hanging out backstage during a New York City gala performance. The two became "fast friends" and unlikely singing partners, recording and touring live together. Their 2014 duet album "Cheek to Cheek" debuted at number one on the Billboard charts, capturing the hearts of multiple generations. Gaga has often spoken fondly of Bennett in interviews, and for the past two years, the duo has been working on a new album together.

But a newly revealed development puts that endeavor into a whole different light: Bennett's wife and son have publicly announced that the legendary 94-year-old jazz singer was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2016.

In the latest issue of AARP magazine, writer John Colapinto describes meeting Bennett recently in the New York apartment he shares with his wife and primary caregiver, Susan. The picture he paints in the article is a familiar one for those who have experienced a loved one's cognitive decline—alternating expressionless reactions and moments of lucidity with no seeming rhyme or reason. Susan says he can thankfully still remember family members, but he's not always sure of what he's doing or what's happening. "Mundane objects as familiar as a fork or a set of house keys can be utterly mysterious to him," Colapinto wrote.


Susan told AARP that they are fortunate in that her husband has tons of support and is able to still live a relatively normal life as his memory deteriorates. She wasn't sure if he was going to be up to the task of recording an album, but they decided to try. Music is a surprisingly powerful tool for people with Alzheimer's—even patients with severe and advanced dementia can have memories triggered with music—so Bennett's neurologist encouraged him to continue making music for as long as he enjoys it.

So that's what he's done making this new album with Lady Gaga, which is set to be released this spring. However, he won't be able to promote it himself through interviews or tours like he normally would. Even during the recording sessions, the evidence of his illness hit hard when he wasn't singing, as Colapinto shared:

"In raw documentary footage of the sessions, he speaks rarely, and when he does his words are halting; at times, he seems lost and bewildered. Gaga, clearly aware of his condition, keeps her utterances short and simple (as is recommended by experts in the disease when talking to Alzheimer's patients). 'You sound so good, Tony,' she tells him at one point. 'Thanks,' is his one-word response. She says that she thinks 'all the time' about their 2015 tour. Tony looks at her wordlessly. 'Wasn't that fun every night?' she prompts him. 'Yeah,' he says, uncertainly. The pain and sadness in Gaga's face is clear at such moments — but never more so than in an extraordinarily moving sequence in which Tony (a man she calls 'an incredible mentor, and friend, and father figure') sings a solo passage of a love song. Gaga looks on, from behind her mic, her smile breaking into a quiver, her eyes brimming, before she puts her hands over her face and sobs."

Watching the mind of a loved one slip away is grueling to the point of feeling cruel. There's no other way to put it. The friends and family of the approximately 5 million Americans who live with Alzheimer's can attest to how hard it is, especially when the cognitive decline leads to forgetting even the most intimate of relationships.

The difficulty of Alzheimer's makes it hard to destigmatize the disease. People should know that it's not an immediate death sentence and that people can live a quality life with the support of their loved ones long after they've been diagnosed. We don't need to hide away people with dementia—but we do need to understand how to interact with them as well as what to expect and not to expect.

And sometimes people with Alzheimer's can surprise us. Susan said that despite the obvious cognitive decline, Bennett was still able to perform his music flawlessly, right up until his last public performance in March of 2020, when the pandemic put a halt to concerts. She said that he could seem very confused about where he was and what was going on backstage before a performance, but as soon as he heard "Ladies and gentlemen — Tony Bennett!" he would stride out on stage, smile at the audience, and sing his heart out like he'd always done. During every performance the past four years, Susan would worry he'd forget a lyric or get confused on stage. "I was a nervous frigging wreck," she said. "Yet he always delivered!"

The entire AARP article is worth a read, as it profiles Bennett's illustrious career, his life before and after his Alzheimer's diagnosis, and how his family is handling the changes in him. It also includes some valuable information about dementia for people who are going through similar changes with their loved ones.

As the world awaits the release of the Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga collaboration, Bennett's family and friends await the inevitable. Susan indicated that she'll know the end is nearing when Bennett stops singing altogether. "Singing is everything to him. Everything. It has saved his life many times," she told Colapinto, before once again pointing to the power of music.

"There's a lot about him that I miss because he's not the old Tony anymore," she said. "But when he sings, he's the old Tony."

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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