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Welcome to the first installment of the The Discerning Palette, a new blog series about the online art world. In the news this week is the art of Tony Bennett. Yes, that Tony Bennett. When he’s not crooning, Mr. Bennett enjoys painting watercolors. His art can be viewed and purchased through his website, Benedetto Arts. Benedetto is Mr. Bennett’s original family name and how he signs his paintings. Mr. Bennett has done commission pieces for the Kentucky Derby and the United Nations and has works in the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery. He has also lectured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This week Mr. Bennett’s art is in the news due to a photo shoot with Lady Gaga and famed celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Gaga and Leibovitz were shooting for an upcoming Vanity Fair issue and Mr. Bennett was invited to sketch Lady Gaga. The charcoal sketch of Lady Gaga is being auctioned off for Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and Bennett’s Exploring the Arts charity. For other Bennett/Gaga collaborations, check out their duet of “The Lady is a Tramp”from the Rogers and Hart musical “Babes in Arms” which is featured on Bennett’s new Duets II CD.
Estonia is a tiny nation squeezed between the Baltic Sea and the former Soviet Union. For centuries they have been subject to occupation and used as a pawn by larger, more powerful nations. In 1920 they achieved independence and were thriving only to fall victim again to dictators – in 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a secret agreement that divided Europe between them. Shortly thereafter, Stalin invaded Estonia and brutally suppressed resistance.
This invasion was followed by more than 50 years of oppression, first by Stalin, then Hitler, then Stalin again. Thousands of Estonians were killed or shipped to Siberia to work in the labor camps. The Estonian language was outlawed, thousands of Russians were moved to Estonia (called “russification”) to further dilute the native population and any hint of free thinking was swiftly and severely punished.
However, the Estonians refused to give up their culture or their national identity. One way was through singing – this tiny nation has one of the largest collections of folk songs in the world and singing clubs are very popular. A national song festival – “Laulupidu” – has been held every five years since 1894. The Soviets allowed this festival to continue, but required the singing of Soviet communist songs, sung in Russian. On one occasion the Estonians outsmarted their oppressors and spontaneously began singing traditional folk songs in Estonian. The band was ordered to play louder to drown out the singing, but massed voices were too loud.
As Soviet Russia began to crumble, Estonia pushed for more freedoms and independence. Throughout their struggle, singing became a uniting force, bringing people together countless times. The Estonian revolution remained bloodless and, when the USSR finally collapsed, Estonia emerged as an intact nation, united by their suffering but also by their joyous singing.
The Singing Revolution will leave you with a lump in your throat and goosebumps on your skin. It’s hard to believe that singing can stop tanks, but the Estonians did it again and again. The beautiful, lovingly produced documentary will remind you again of both the price of freedom and why it’s so precious.