The Armenian Side of Tony Bennett

The inimitable Tony Bennett
The inimitable Tony Bennett

Like another one of his gems from “Love Story,” just where do you begin with Tony Bennett?

He fought with an Armenian in a World War II foxhole, befriended many an Armenian at an airport, sympathized with us about the genocide, and had many a close encounter with others.

As for me, a concert he gave at the Frolics in Salisbury Beach left an indelible mark. It was a first date with my wife, precisely 50 years ago. And as we celebrate our golden anniversary, his music is still being heard in our home. It will never die.

Come August, the artist turns 90, though contemporaries young enough to be his granddaughter are swooning with the megastar and pushing out platinums.

The foxhole story came from Paul Varadian one night while we were attending a mutual affair. I’ve always had the utmost respect for the Varadian family of Cranston, R.I., and especially Paul’s work in organizing Armenian-American athletes for World Olympic notoriety.

His late dad Haig was a prominent educator and sports icon in Rhode Island, who was remembered with a science wing at the school where he taught for many years.

They were together in battle as part of the Greatest Generation before going their separate ways—Tony Bennett in entertainment and Haig Varadian in education.

“I’m just hearing about that now,” confessed Paul’s mom, Anahid Karentz Varadian. “It doesn’t surprise me that Haig and Tony fought together in the same foxhole. Haig seldom talked about the war, but may have mentioned it later to our children with stories being featured on television. Our children were very interested in knowing their father’s experiences.”

As the Varadians gathered for their traditional Thanksgiving meal, the conversation quickly turned to Tony Bennett. Seems someone at the table (a niece’s aunt) is married to Tony’s brother.

Ironic as this may seem, Haig winds up marrying Anahid Karentz, and who does she meet one day in the airport but the singer himself.

“I was in California shopping at a Rodeo Drive department store where my girlfriend told me I might spot some celebrities,” Anahid recalled. “As I was exiting the store and not paying attention, I walked smack into someone almost knocking him over.”

As memory recalls, Anahid remembers the guy wearing a bright blue shirt and white trousers, accompanied by a cute blond.

“I, of course, apologized again, not noticing until my friend told me it was Tony Bennett,” Anahid said, fondly turning back the years.

She encountered many dignitaries over her career, including Tony Bennett a number of times, but never approached him. Anahid served as the administrative assistant to the director of the airport.

In her role, she accompanied many celebrities to private areas, away from paparazzi and overly rambunctious fans.

“If I had known that story of Haig’s, I could have asked back then,” she said.

In one incident back in the early 1990’s, Anahid heard that Tom Brokaw was waiting for a flight out of New York. She rushed and found him sitting alone in the waiting area. Anahid introduced herself in her position.

She told Brokaw that as an ARS international board member, she appreciated all that he had done for the earthquake victims in 1988 with his daily news broadcasts. The commentator repeatedly stressed the need for donations to help with the crisis.

“We had a real nice chat,” Anahid recalled. “Life leads to many adventures, as we well know. I have great memories of those avenues I’ve traveled.”

You never forget your first date. Should you, and guaranteed your wife will remind you. In our courting days, both of us were Tony Bennett aficionados. He was as hot back in the 50s as he is today and time has been kind to him.

I remember darting off to Salisbury Beach one day and picking up two tickets in advance. We were seated at a table in front and made eye contact with the singer as he sang one hit after another. For two hours, he serenaded us non-stop with no intermission.

I remember being astonished at how any vocalist could keep up that pace for such a long time without so much as a respite. Little did I ever think he would go another 50 years, outliving such contemporaries as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole.

The good old days wouldn’t be so old if more people decided to live them.

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
Tom Vartabedian

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    • What an interesting real life story, i like Tony Benett very much and i like his songs he is so cool when he sings i sit back and relax listining to his melodies. GB Tony Benett and give him very healthy long life as he very joyfully entertain his fans and… thanks to the writer Tom Vartabedian to unfold such interesting topics related to iconic celebraties such as Tony Bennett, thanks to Haig Varadian and his family, thank you Armenian Weeky for publishing worthwhile issues.

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