WHILE FANS AROUND the world mourned the death of Tony Bennett on Friday, the news hit his adopted hometown of San Francisco particularly hard.

The legendary singer’s iconic connection to the city was cemented in 1961 when he first performed his hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” at the Fairmont hotel.

Since then, it’s become the song most associated with “the City by the Bay” and continues to be played every time the San Francisco Giants baseball team secures a home win.

YouTube video
Tony Bennett performs his signature song on an episode of MTV Unplugged. (Tony Bennett/YouTube)

On Friday, Mayor London Breed ordered the flags at City Hall to be flown at half-staff to honor the dulcet-toned crooner’s love of the city, his artistic legacy and his life.

“Tony Bennett provided us with a song, a spirit, and a magic that is intertwined with the history of San Francisco and who we are,” Breed said. “Today we honor his memory and celebrate his legacy that will stay with us forever.”

The city has long embraced its relationship with the singer, a New York native, honoring him with a statue on Nob Hill and renaming the street in front of the Fairmont “Tony Bennett Way.”

A statue of Tony Bennett stands in a courtyard outside the Fairmont San Francisco Hotel on Mason Street. (Thomas Hawk/Flickr, CC BY-NC)

“In 2018, I was thrilled to welcome him to our city as we renamed a stretch of Mason Street ‘Tony Bennett Way’ as we dedicated a statue to him,” U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said Friday. “His iconic song ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ will live on forever as one of our city’s official anthems — and in the American canon.”

Pelosi also praised Bennett for his “devotion to serving his nation,” noting his military service during World War II, during which he participated in the famed Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last major offensive of the war, and helped liberate a concentration camp.

“Upon returning home, he continued defending freedom as he marched at Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, before dedicating the rest of his life to humanitarian causes that have made a difference for millions,” Pelosi said in a statement.

An uplifting voice in dark times

At noon on April 25, 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic while people were confined to their homes to help prevent infections, Bennett helped raise the city’s spirits by encouraging every resident to simultaneously belt out “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” for a “Sing out SF” event.

“Tony was a true New Yorker but he was also an adopted son of San Francisco,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor. “From riding the cable cars to celebrate their renovation to uplifting us by leading a city-wide singing of ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ during the pandemic, Tony’s love and support for San Francisco have been felt for decades.”

“His heart will forever be in San Francisco and ours will forever be with him,” Feinstein said.

On Twitter, the Giants said Bennett’s “music will live on at Oracle Park. We cherish the memories of his friendship and many visits,” which included performing in front of fans before World Series games, among other things.

Tony Bennett performs “God Bless America” at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Oct. 27, 2010, before Game 1 of the World Series between the Giants and Texas Rangers. (Rob Corder/Flicker, CC BY-NC)

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said “Bennett created intense beauty, and he captured San Francisco’s essence.”

A post on the singer’s social media accounts confirmed his death Friday morning.

“Tony left us today but he was still singing the other day at his piano and his last song was, ‘Because of You,’ his first #1 hit. Tony, because of you we have your songs in our heart forever,” it reads.

Bennett died in New York at the age of 96. He is survived by his wife Susan, a San Francisco native, and his four children.

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.