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San Francisco has a special place in its heart for Tony Bennett

February 14, 2012 |  6:31 pm

Singer Misa Malone, left, performs during an event to honor Tony Bennett, seated right , with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but on Valentine’s Day he left his singing voice somewhere else entirely.

Instead, the city turned out to serenade the singer during a 50th-anniversary celebration of the silver-haired crooner’s signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” -- the official ballad of Baghdad by the Bay.

Happy San Franciscans, and a healthy sprinkling of out-of-towners, jammed into City Hall’s graceful Beaux-Arts rotunda Tuesday for the civic extravaganza. They hung from balconies three stories up and clutched video cameras and smartphones.

Nancy Charraga, who has lived in San Francisco for 20 years, queued up two hours before the public party because “it has been my wish to hear Tony Bennett sing ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ in person for a long time, but I haven’t been able to afford it.”

The City Hall celebration “is a perfect Valentine’s Day gift,” said the Mission District shopkeeper. “I think it’s great that the city of San Francisco does this so working-class people can take part in the festivities too.”

Although Bennett did not sing the song he made famous, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus did, and so did the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the mostly melodic crowd.

A dance troupe performed a hula rendition, Misa Malone of Beach Blanket Babylon fame -– resplendent in a bubble-gum pink Glenda-the-good-witch gown and matching pink wig -– did a version of the Bennett standard. Curtsying before the singing legend, she sang, “You are the heart, of San Francisco.”

Mayor Ed Lee proclaimed it Tony Bennett Day and gave the 85-year-old Grammy winner the key to the city. Larry Baer, chief executive of the San Francisco Giants, named a luxury suite in the singer’s honor. (There’s already a Tony Bennett bobblehead complete with “I Left My Heart” voice chip.) And local notables from former Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) toasted Bennett via video.

Bennett said he was “thrilled with the honor” and talked about early response to the song. The first time he rehearsed “I Left My Heart” while in a Little Rock, Ark., club, a bartender broke in, apologized and gushed, “If you ever record that song, I’m going to be your first customer.”

Bennett said he always thought that the song would be a hit locally, but was surprised by “the fact that it has become such an international song ... Everybody loves it. They love this city.”


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-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

Photo: Singer Misa Malone, left, performs during an event to honor Tony Bennett, seated right, with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

Credit: Aric Crabb / Oakland Tribune