Tony Bennett Finds His Heart in San Francisco 50 Years Later

San Francisco delivered a valentine to Tony Bennett, the 85-year-old singer who immortalized the city with his ballad about the place where he left his heart, in a City Hall ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the tune’s recording.

“I always thought it would be a local song,” Bennett said at the event yesterday. “But it became international.”

Bennett performed “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” publicly for the first time in late 1961 at the Venetian Room of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. He recorded it the next year, and the song won a Grammy award for record of the year and became the signature ballad of Bennett’s career.

At the City Hall event, a brass ensemble from the San Francisco Symphony opened the proceedings with a rendition of the song. Then Mayor Ed Lee and his wife escorted Bennett down a red-carpeted staircase to kick off the congratulations, including video tributes from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Mayor Willie Brown.

“You’ve helped us climb not halfway to the stars, but all the way,” Lee said.

Musical groups ranging from a chorus of more than 100 schoolchildren to a star of the satirical musical “Beach Blanket Babylon,” decked out in a pink dress and plastic crown, offered their versions of “I Left My Heart.”

Tony Bennett Suite

San Francisco Giants President Larry Baer announced that the best suite at the ballpark would be named the Tony Bennett Suite, adding that the song has been played 573 times so far after Giants wins at AT&T Park.

Almost the only person on stage who didn’t sing was Bennett himself, who smiled, waved and applauded the performers.

“I want to thank Ralph Sharon for finding this song,” Bennett said, referring to his longtime accompanist. Sharon first proposed using the tune when the pair were on the road in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bennett recalled.

The ballad, with music by George Cory and lyrics by Douglass Cross, was an unlikely candidate to become a classic. It was released by Columbia Records in 1962 as the “B” side of a 45-rpm disc featuring another Bennett song, “Once Upon a Time,” according to Sylvia Weiner, a spokeswoman for the singer.

Bennett hasn’t settled quietly into retirement in his native New York. He performed “It Had to Be You” in a duet with Carrie Underwood on Sunday night in Los Angeles for the Grammy awards broadcast. On Thursday he’s scheduled to play the Pala Casino Spa Resort in San Diego County. He’s released more than 100 albums -- most recently, “Duets II” last year -- and earned 17 Grammys, including one for lifetime achievement.

Bennett returned to the Fairmount’s Venetian Room last night to sing the song again at a fundraising dinner benefiting heart research at the University of California, San Francisco.

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