George Cory and Douglass Cross met in the military and developed a relationship devoted to songwriting. After the military, they moved to New York City hoping to make a breakthrough on Tin Pan Alley. They had little success. Both longed to return to their hometown of San Francisco. George wrote the music and Douglass wrote the lyrics in their wistful memory of their beloved city.
The song was written for an operatic contralto who sang it as an encore when she performed on stage. She never recorded it. The song languished for eight years in obscurity. George and Douglass gave the song to Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett’s piano accompanist, hoping that Tony Bennett would sing it. Sharon put the song in a drawer and nearly forgot it.
When Tony Bennett was due to perform in San Francisco, Sharon recalled that he had the song and had Tony Bennett include it in his program. The reception to the song convinced Tony Bennett to record it.
As they say, the rest is history. The song became Tony Bennett’s signature song. George and Douglass never wrote another hit but continued to receive royalties for the rest of their lives.
Songs are a gift to all of us, but never more so than on April 25, 2020, in the heart of the COVID pandemic. At noon on that day, citizens of San Francisco joined together to sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” from where they were sheltering. Tony Bennett led the singing.
You can listen to Tony Bennett’s gift to us here Tony Bennett – I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
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“Music is the universal language of mankind.”– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow