“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is a popular song, written in the fall of 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, by George Cory (1920-1978) and Douglass Cross (1920-1975) and best known as the signature song of Tony Bennett.
The song was released as a single by Bennett on Columbia Records as the b-side to “Once Upon A Time,” peaked at #19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later issued on the album of the same name. The song is one of the official anthems for the city of San Francisco.
The music was written by Cory, with lyrics by Cross, about two amateur writers nostalgic for San Francisco after moving to New York.
Although the song was originally written for Claramae Turner, who often used it as an encore, she never got around to recording it. The song found its way to Tony Bennett through Ralph Sharon, Bennett’s longtime accompanist and friends with the composers. Sharon brought the music along when he and Bennett were on tour and on their way to San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.
A little-known fact about the song is that, prior to Tony Bennett hearing it, the song was pitched to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who Claramae Turner suggested Cross take it to. Ford turned the song down, but in an ironic turn of events, later purchased a ranch in Lake County, California, owned by Cross’s family.
In December 1961, in the famous “Venetian Room” at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. In the audience that night were San Francisco mayor George Christopher and future mayor Joseph L. Alioto. From the 1960s through the 1980s, at San Francisco’s premier supper club the “Venetian Room,” Bennett sang the city song.