At 85, Tony Bennett still at the top of his game

At 85 years old, Tony Bennett is still topping charts, just like he was when he first started more than six decades ago. CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller spent the day with the music legend in one of his favorite cities, New Orleans.

When Bennett takes the stage, there are no riffs or special effects. It's just simple elegance -- the way it used to be.

"Sinatra said you were his favorite," Miller pointed out.

"What did he know? I'm just kidding," he replied, laughing. "He taught me to like the audience. Not to be frightened of them. And it changed my whole life."

Pictures: Tony Bennett

That advice, combined with a robust, smoky voice, propelled a young boy born in Queens during the heart of the Depression into a world-renowned super star.

"I travel quite a bit, I travel around the world, I have the number one record in the world so I have to go to Italy and Germany and Paris," he told Miller.

CBS News caught a ride with Bennett down to one of his favorite cities, New Orleans.

The 85-year-old crooner is just as inspired and just as passionate about music as he was when he started more than six decades ago.

His first number one hit was in 1951. Asked if there is a difference between then and now, Bennett said, "Yeah, it is, there's a whole a lot of living between 1951 and now."

Throughout his 85 years, he raised four grown children, marched for civil rights and fought on the front lines in World War II, an experience which he says defined him.

"How did it impact you?" Miller asked.

"Well, that's a tough question because I get in trouble every time I mention what happened. I didn't like the war. It's the lowest form of human behavior, to kill somebody. And I've become a pacifist. So a lot of people don't understand me," Bennett said.

War is a very serious matter for Bennett. "I can't believe it. I can't believe that we can't graduate and stop fighting throughout the world," he said.

That big heart and almost palpable sense of compassion helped earn Bennett the nickname "Tony Benefit." Case and point? The reason he was in the Big Easy was to help celebrate the 101st home built for Katrina victims by Project Home Again.

"I've always believed it's better to give than to get," he said.

And no one could accuse him of not giving enough to his fans. This month, a complete collection of Bennett's work is being released: It includes 70 original albums, every single one recorded with a commitment to excellence in his signature style.

Through his tenure, he never pandered to trends or fads, sometimes to his detriment. When rock 'n' roll first entered the scene, and continued to rule the airwaves, Bennett refused to compromise, suffering a setback in popularity.

But eventually, without changing his formal appearance, music style or song choice, he managed to connect with the very hip MTV generation. And he's only collected more fans ever since.

When asked what the secret of his success is, Bennett said, laughing, "Lady Gaga."

Bennett's latest album, entitled "Duets II," features 17 collaborations with musical greats from almost every genre - including the reigning queen of pop, Lady Gaga, and the late Amy Winehouse.

"Is there something about singing with another talent that gives you a sense of collaboration?" Miller asked.

"Oh yeah, but you need a contrast. You know, it can't sound like the two of us can't sound alike," he explained.

Thanks to those perfect pairs, Bennett became the oldest living artist ever to top the Billboard Top 100 this past month.

Asked how that makes him feel, Bennett joked, "Well, they say it's never gonna happen again. That's what they tell me. So let's see what happens."

But if his performances are any indication, the American icon doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.