Singer Tony Bennett, 94, has encouraged people to shop in their local corner stores, marking Small Business Saturday.

"Today I encourage you all to #ShopSmall!," he tweeted at the weekend. "When my family first immigrated to America, they owned a small grocery store in New York. They taught me the value of supporting small businesses, and today I hope you'll join me in doing so this year."

In an interview with Roseanna Vitro in 2014, Bennett recalled his boyhood growing up in the Queens district of New York.

"I grew up in a very poor time in America during the Great Depression," the singer and artist (born Antonio Benedetto) recalled. The experience of growing up in the Great Depression and revulsion at the Hoover Administration made him a committed Democrat.

Tony's seamstress mother Anna (Suraci) was born in America, the daughter of parents who had emigrated from the Calabria region of Italy in 1899. "It was a struggle, and my mom had to work for 'a penny a dress' to put food on the table."

The singer talked about his father, John, who had emigrated from Podàrgoni, also in Calabria, in 1906. "He had a great reputation ..... the family story was that he used to sing on the top of a mountain and the whole valley would hear him. My father's talent inspired my older brother to study opera."

John, however, became seriously ill when Tony was about nine years old and died a year later.

Tony Bennett pictured in 2018

Bennett's mother was able to arrange that Tony's older brother John Jr, who was four years older than Tony,  would take Italian singing lessons. At the age of fourteen, he was singing solo guest spots at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and even got a nickname, 'The Little Caruso', in those pre-television days.

Tony recalled his elder sibling. "He was on the Eddie Cantor Radio Show and sang beautifully. I was always influenced by him. I felt that he was getting great training."

in fact, it was John Jr who told the young Antonio about this guy called Frank Sinatra who was singing at the Paramount in New York and wowing audiences, which set Tony on his career path.

"Later on, he (John) got tired of studying and started going down to the Village where he fell in love with all the jazz artists.

"I wanted to do whatever he did. I would imitate him. Right away I just fell in love with jazz. He was about four years older than me."