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Music legend Tony Bennett wows crowd at BPL benefit

Robin Hamilton | 11/25/2008, 4:19 a.m.
Tony Bennett (top, saluting Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maaathai at a Dec. 11, 2004 concert) paid a one-day visit to the Hub to perform at a fundraiser benefiting the Boston Public Library Foundation. Many visitors to the Boston Public Library (like the one below, studying in Bates Hall in Boston on Aug. 26, 2002) are delighted by the treasure trove of art and architecture in the historic collection, as well as the rows of bookcases full of old volumes. AP ; top by Mel Evans, bottom by Charles Krupa

Legendary crooner Tony Bennett recently sang some of his most memorable tunes before an intimate crowd of about 250 people at a fundraiser benefiting the Boston Public Library Foundation.

Performing hits like “The Best Has Yet to Come” in the ballroom at the new Mandarin Oriental Boston Hotel, the legendary singer was in the Hub on Nov. 9 for one night to raise money for the foundation that preserves the artistic and historic integrity of the Boston Public Library (BPL). The foundation also highlights the library’s contributions as an academic and informational resource for the community.

The library’s wealth of cultural resources is one of the reasons he agreed to perform an exclusive concert in Boston. Members of the library said that while Bennett’s daughter studied in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, the singer would visit the John Singer Sargent murals in the Copley Square branch.

“This is a unique opportunity for the library, the Mandarin Hotel and Tony Bennett to come together,” said Sharyn Neble, vice chair of the foundation and co-chair of the event.

A performance by a timeless artist like Bennett spotlighted the foundation’s effort to preserve and promote the BPL, itself an auspicious collection of the old, the new and the classic.

Established in 1848, the BPL contains some of the most renowned pieces of artwork and literature in the world.

“We are the only public library that is also a presidential library — most presidential libraries are free-standing buildings,” Neble explained. The BPL’s Central Library in Copley Square also serves as the John Adams’ Presidential Library.

“We have original Shakespeare folios. We have treasures that are beyond imagination,” she said.

Neble has been with the foundation for five years, and said her work provides her new inspiration all the time.

“Every day, we learn something new,” she said.

However, she is particularly excited by the opportunities that children can glean from the BPL. “I just believe in the preservation of libraries, and the education for children, and to have them together, I love it.”

All 27 BPL neighborhood branches, in locations such as Egleston and Dudley squares, Fields Corner, Grove Hall and Uphams Corner, offer free Internet access and educational youth programs. One award-winning initiative, the Homework Assistance Program or HAP, provides children with mentors for after-school study.

New BPL President Amy Ryan said she is proud, and a bit intimidated, to be part of an institution that has so much to offer.

“I am excited and humbled,” she said, then laughed and added, “and terrified.”

Bennett, on the other hand, showed no such nerves during his performance. For roughly an hour and a half, he smiled, winked and charmed the crowd who paid top dollar to see him sing, all the while supporting a historic institution in Boston.