Tony Bennett Was No Stranger to Long Beach

Steve Propes

One of the major vocal talents of the past 70 years of recorded music, Tony Bennett made a mark for himself via several successful takes on his unique style.

He was born Anthony Dominick Benedetto on Aug. 3, 1926 in New York City and served in the Army during World War II. During the 1940s and early 50s, the pre-rock and roll record scene was dominated by singers of Italian heritage like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Perry Como, Frankie Laine, Jerry Vale and Vic Damone. Every major label had their own in-house crooner.

After performing, but likely not recording as Joe Bari, Benedetto become Tony Bennett and was signed to the Columbia label in 1950, recording “The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.” Though the song charted on New York, Virginia and Philadelphia radio, it didn’t dent the national pop charts.

Fans born after Bennett’s best known release, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” which charted for almost the entire year of 1962 might well have been first exposed to his talents in the mob movie, “Goodfellas” in which his third number one hit “Rags To Riches” was heard by up-and-coming mobster Henry Hill while parking his bosses’ car. “Rags To Riches” set the table for this Martin Scorsese 1990 hit flick’s sound track, which used decade’s worth of styles from doo wop to heavy metal.

Before “Rags To Riches,” “Because Of You” topped the charts on June 23, 1951 as well as his first chart hit in L.A. at #8 on July 21 on KFWB. Then came the remake of the Hank Williams’ country staple, “Cold, Cold Heart,” #1 on the East Coast and nationally on July 21, 1951, reaching #3 on KECA (now KABC) on Nov. 10

Released in August 1953, Bennett’s version of “Rags To Riches” soon made #1 on Sept. 19, 1953, scoring well on KLAC and KNX, reaching #2 on KECA and KFWB.

Tony Bennett’s most enduring, if not best-selling single, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” was pitched to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who turned the song down. Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in December 1961, in the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel 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, Bennett always sang the song at his appearances at the Venetian Room. He recorded it in New York in January 1962 and by mid-March, it charted for the first time on radio stations KYA and KEWB in, guess where? San Francisco. Though it lasted on the KYA charts until July, it never reached higher than #3 on these charts.

In August, “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” peaked on #19 on the national charts, the earliest it showed up outside “the city by the bay,” charting on at #6 KFWB and #10 on KRLA in L.A. The song then moved to New York City, charting on WABC at #7 in late September 1962. The highest chart position for “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” was #2 in Oklahoma City in early November 1962, 11 months after its debut. Hardly a shot in the pan, definitely the sure sign of a long-lasting standard.

Bennett toured with his hits through several decades, some years one or two concerts a year, up to 87 concerts in 2012. On March 3, 2009, Bennett appeared at the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center. On Feb. 2, 2020 he returned with his daughter Antonia to the Terrace Theater for the last time. He also appeared in L.A. at the Hollywood Bowl and Staples Center and other local venues, including the Pechanga Casino in Temecula just before his final Long Beach appearance.

His final concerts with Lady Gaga introduced him to a whole new audience at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall in August 2021. Additional 2021 concerts with Antonia were cancelled. Bennett passed away on July 21, 2023 at age 96.


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