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San Francisco to sing its heart out for Tony Bennett

February 13, 2012 |  2:46 pm

Tony Bennett in 2006At the stroke of noon Tuesday, music will blast out over the shoppers in Union Square and the homeless people in Hallidie Plaza. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus will chime in from the City Hall rotunda, along with the big-hatted belters from "Beach Blanket Babylon." Radio stations have been asked to preempt the midday news.

And, if Mayor Ed Lee has his way, San Franciscans from Nob Hill to Noe Valley, the Presidio to Potrero Hill, will look up from their computer keyboards, drop what they’re doing and burst into song. The same song. The one this storied city’s residents love to hate and hate to love: I left my heart in San Francisco. High on a hill, it calls to me ...

It is, more or less, the 50th anniversary of when Tony Bennett first crooned San Francisco’s musical Rohrschach test in the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel, and the mustachioed mayor with the Busby Berkeley bent is presiding over a civic extravaganza in honor of the 85-year-old legend with the silver hair and golden pipes.

“Thanks to Tony Bennett, people have been experiencing the magic of San Francisco for 50 years no matter where they are in the world,” Lee said in a statement announcing the festivities. “The song reminds us of why we love our City so much and when we are away, it calls us home.”

At least two people, however, are all but guaranteed to spurn the noontime chorus -- the men who together dethroned the one-time official song of San Francisco, who stopped those little cable cars from climbing halfway to the stars more than a quarter-century ago.

That’s when then-Supervisor Quentin Kopp -- who described “I Left My Heart” as “schmaltzy,” the fault of the “hippie-love movement” and unworthy of the city it aimed to honor -– introduced a resolution to make the theme song from the 1936 earthquake movie “San Francisco” the official song of Baghdad by the Bay instead.

Kopp's ally, Warren Hinckle, was far less gentle. During a month-long imbroglio played out in the newspapers and City Hall, Hinckle, then a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, called the lyrics “infantile drool” and said the song was “barely suited for elevator music” and was “as much San Francisco as bathtub chablis.”


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--Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

Photo: Tony Bennett celebrates his 80th birthday at the Kodak Theater in 2006. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times