Melissa Maerz
September 23, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

When was the last time an 85-year-old’s birthday party lured stars away from the Emmys? Try Sept. 18, the night that Alec Baldwin sacrificed his awards-show gift bag to host Tony Bennett‘s dinner gala at Lincoln Center in New York City, a benefit for the veteran crooner’s Exploring the Arts charity. Robert De Niro, Katie Couric, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rachael Ray all toasted Bennett at the event, which opened with President Obama‘s video message to the guest of honor: ”Michelle and I will never forget hearing your voice echo through the White House…. Happy birthday, Tony.” Earlier that evening, more than 700 people watched Bennett perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he sang with Elton John (on ”If I Ruled the World”) and Aretha Franklin (”How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”) before putting down his microphone and bellowing ”Fly Me to the Moon” all the way up to the nosebleed seats. His voice was booming as ever, though President Clinton, who introduced Bennett, appreciated him for a different reason: ”He’s the only person I know who’s older than I am.”

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