The Song of the Day for September 19, 2012 is I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
It is your author’s birthday and she can’t imagine a better birthday song than this.
About I Left My Heart in San Francisco
This song was written 1954 by two somewhat homesick songwriters from San Francisco: George Cory and Douglass Cross.
Knowing that Ralph Sharon played with Tony Bennett, the songwriters gave a copy of the music to Mr. Sharon, who promptly put it in a drawer and forgot about it. Some time later, as he was packing for a tour with Mr. Bennett that would take them to San Francisco, he came across the song and put it in his suitcase, thinking that the locals in San Francisco might enjoy hearing it. After a performance at a nightclub in Hot Springs, Arkansas (a concert where underage saxophone player and future President Bill Clinton famously stood outside the club and watched the entire performance through the window), Bennett and Sharon found a piano in the bar at their hotel and started to work on the song. The first fan of the song was the bartender, who said “If you guys record that song, I’ll buy the first copy.” (Tony Bennett, The Good Life, page 164).
They sang the song at the Fairmont Hotel on opening night, at Mr. Bennett’s first appearance in San Francisco. Local representatives from Columbia Records heard the song at rehearsal and encouraged Bennett to record it. A few months later, they recorded it as the B-side with Once Upon A Time. Mr. Bennett relates this in his autobiography, The Good Life:
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was a “grass roots” phenomenon: it literally came from nowhere, it was written by two unknown songwriters, it wasn’t from a show or a movie and the record company didn’t spend millions of dollar promoting it. People responded to it because it was a great song, not because some record company exec was telling them what to like. … The record sold thousands of copies a week for the next four years, became a gold record, scored me my first Grammy, and in short, became the biggest record of my career.
And, of course, the song has become synonymous with Tony Bennett. I have even been asked if Tony Bennett is from San Francisco, because he is so identified with this song; I have to tell them that he is a New Yorker to his core.
On a personal note, the song is important in my own family. My late parents used to travel to San Francisco regularly to attend the opera and always stayed at the Fairmont Hotel. On one trip, sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, they were also able to get tickets to hear Mr. Bennett sing there. In one of the last long conversations I had with my mother, she noted slyly that “Tony Bennett really sends you, doesn’t he?” and of course I had to reply in the affirmative. I had just returned from my first live Tony Bennett concert in Seattle in September, 2007 and Mom asked if Tony had sung I Left My Heart in San Francisco and we talked about the song and our respective live performances for hours.
About This Version
This version, compiled on The Essential Tony Bennett, is the original singles version. Mr. Bennett re-recorded the song for the 1962 I Left My Heart in San Francisco album.
More I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Tony Bennett singing with Judy Garland from her television show:
And Tony Bennett at the 1994 MTV Unplugged Concert, with Mr. Sharon: