Part of San Francisco
© Copyright 2017 by Dale Fehringer
It would be hard to find people in San Francisco who haven’t heard of Tony Bennett and can’t sing along with at least part of I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
Anthony Benedetto, or Tony Bennett as the world knows him, has sung the ballad thousands of times: At the Fairmont Hotel (where a statue of him now stands), at the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, when the Bay Bridge reopened after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, at the San Francisco Symphony Hall, and at championship games for the 49ers and Giants. It plays at AT&T Park after every Giants victory, and it’s heard in bars, restaurants, and nightclubs all over the city.
It’s San Francisco’s song, and it’s Tony Bennett’s song. It has helped him become part of San Francisco, which he calls an “elegant, beautiful city.”
Bennett has had a passion for art and music his whole life. After his father died when he was a boy, he sang while waiting tables in New York City restaurants. He sang to troops in Europe during World War II. And he sang on the road for years, meeting and working with generations of renowned musicians. He performed through ups-and-downs in his personal life, and he kept his music relevant to generations of audiences.
Throughout his long and brilliant career, the success of I Left My Heart in San Francisco has changed and guided him. It’s his favorite song and the one with which he has been most identified. When asked if he gets tired of singing it, he answers, “Do you get tired of making love?”
He found his signature song through a happenstance of circumstances. In 1961, Bennett was in New York, preparing to go on the road to Hot Springs, Arkansas and then San Francisco. Ralph Sharon, his pianist, was packing for the trip, looking through his dresser, and he noticed sheet music that two aspiring songwriters, George Cory and Douglas Cross, had given him years earlier. One of the songs was I Left My Heart in San Francisco. Sharon took it on the trip.
They played at a nightclub in Arkansas, and after the show Sharon took out the music, read it through, and decided he liked it. He called Bennett and they went down to the hotel bar, where Sharon played the melody while Bennett sang the lyrics. Bennett liked it, and so did the bartender working nearby. "If you guys record that song,” the bartender told them, “I'll buy the first copy."
They performed it on opening night at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, where it “went over like gang-busters.” That might have been the end of it, but two local Columbia Record representatives were at rehearsal that afternoon and they loved it.
Bennett recorded it, and the public loved it, driving it to the top 20 songs in October, 1962. Today, despite performing it for years, Bennett still loves it. It’s his song, and everyone knows it. He enjoys performing it, especially in San Francisco. And, he readily admits, he enjoys how it has helped him become part of San Francisco.
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