Readers Write: A love affair with Tony Bennett

James Raia

As it turns out, Tony Bennett’s music influenced a lot of people. It’s an obvious statement, of course. But what is surprising is how many remembrances of the recently deceased entertainer are similar.

Shortly after Bennett died, I wrote an essay and posted it to The article also appeared on Aug. 7 in the print editions of the San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times, daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area owned by Bay Area News Group.

Readers Write: A love affair with Tony Bennett 1
Tony Bennett was an entertainer for more than 70 years. He died in July at age 96.

The article resonated with readers, many of who expressed their memories and compliments via email.

To further celebrate Bennett’s life and what he meant to people in and around San Francisco, here’s a post that shares readers’ memories and a few compliments. I listed the emails’ authors by first name only.

I want to tell you that your Tony Bennett article was particularly meaningful to me. I love Tony Bennett and often listen to him while driving. My girlfriend Erin and I had the honor of seeing him perform live on two occasions, once at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Ca., and the last time at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

That occasion was also his final performance in San Francisco. He saved “I left my heart in San Francisco” for his encore. It was a moving experience to be with him in our beloved city and to hear him perform that beautiful song. At that moment, I knew I was experiencing something I would remember for a lifetime.

—- John.

I liked your column about Tony Bennett, and KSFO. I was a regular KSFO listener in the early and mid-1970s when I was in my late teens because I disliked the majority of rock music that was being produced during that period.

Just the other day, I described to a friend the KSFO men’s choir “The Sound of the City” station ID spot that you mentioned. Though I’ve forgotten the rest of the lyrics, I appreciated everything about that piece, and it perfectly captured the tone when listening to Russ Syracuse during his late-night slot. He seemed to use it more often than the daytime personalities, except maybe Jim Lange, who was a truly classic radio man among them.

To this day, I have some 45 RPM records in my jukebox that reflect KSFO’s playlist of popular music by Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Perez Prado, David Rose, and even a very Elvis-sounding Conway Twitty, and am always on the hunt for more whenever I visit a thrift store. Ella, Nancy and Etta still need their due representation!

It’s truly a shame what KSFO has become. It is the despicable antithesis of the entertaining and uplifting experience that great station offered in its heyday.

Thank you too, for the nostalgic reminder of the Hills Bros. plant and signage. Along with the large Coca-Cola display and the rooftop goblet of Hamm’s beer that filled up and produced a sudsy head, they made riding on the skyway a treat for us kids from the ‘burbs. Keep up the good work!

—- Ralph.

I just read your column on growing up listening to Tony Bennett and going into SF as a kid. Boy did it bring back memories. My family moved to Concord from Ohio in 1970 when I was 8. In the early days, we’d sightsee in SF on weekends.

How well I remember the coffee aroma as we hit SF and the big Union 76 clock tower at the end of the bridge. My parents weren’t as sophisticated as yours, unfortunately. Instead of jazz or Tony, my mom preferred classical or easy listening (think 101 strings performing everything).

I’m currently cleaning out her record collection and seeing what is salvageable. My dad also passed in the 1980s, and my mom in 2019 at 97. Your column was a breath of nostalgic fresh air. Thanks for sharing.

—- Laura.

My father returned from a sales trip to California in 1964. He declared to us if you could live anywhere in the world it would be Carmel California. We were a family of seven for boys, a daughter and my mom and dad we lived in Michigan. We were all of us in love with Tony Bennett. I left my heart in San Francisco was our anthem.

Even though we lived in Michigan. My remembrance has us playing two albums on vacation. Mom and dad would rent a cabin up in upper Michigan and I left my heart in San Francisco and come fly with me by Sinatra were the two albums that my mom and dad played. I remember we were playing Meet the Beatles 12×5, The Rolling Stones’ first album. It made for a heady brew. We loved it.

It was short five years later. I ended up hitchhiking to California and now I’ve been here as long as the Oakland A’s have. It was a good move on my part. My dad‘s comment and Tony Bennett inspired me. Thanks for reminding me of that. Very wonderful year and time.

Readers Write: A love affair with Tony Bennett 2

—– Gil.

Your recent Autopia article dredged up a memory of some 60 years ago when my eighth-grade class (McKinley Jr. High, Redwood City) boarded a bus for a day trip to San Francisco.

Our teacher, Mrs. Drake, had arranged a number of stops for us, one of which was at the Hills Bros. Coffee Co. on the Embarcadero. I’ve never forgotten that huge sign featuring the turban-wearing chap in the yellow jellaba drinking his coffee; observing the coffee tasters at work sipping from tiny cups (or did they use spoons?); and, of course, that marvelous aroma permeating the place.

As we departed, we each received a small bag of coffee-flavored candies, making the day all the more memorable.

—- Chris.

Thank you for your Remembrances column. I moved to the SF Bay Area (Sunnyvale) in 1961, about the same time as you, and have many of the same memories. I was older than you, 23. Having a drink in the bar at the Top of the Mark, with the fog rolling in and a pianist playing jazz live, driving to The City to explore Broadway, and lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Don’t know why but the Don Sherwood radio show jumped out at me. Do you remember the Bay Bridge Hump? Boy did he have fun with that! Thank you again.

—- Rod.

I loved your tribute to Tony Bennett in today’s paper. Working at the Embarcadero Center 30 floors high I’d often see the “fog creeping slowly across the bay” and that KSFO jingle would replay in my head. I understand there is a radio museum in Berkeley that archives things like those jingles.

Radio was a big part of driving. I remember my Dad would prop a transistor radio on the the dash of our Volkswagen bus (which had no radio) to listen to the Giants. One of the first indulgences we did for my sister was to have a fancy stereo installed in her VW Bug at The Tape Deck. Oh, the memories.

Thank you for your column today. It brought back happy memories and beautiful music to my aging old brain!

—- Larry

You nailed it today.

— Terrence (Tj).

I loved your tribute to Tony Bennett.

—- Larry.

I just read your Tony Bennett column and it was like my childhood growing up in SF reappeared before my eyes! I grew up in the Marina District, my dad wore suits from places like Wilkes Bashford to work as a liquor and wine distributor to all the high end restaurants, we often dined on dim sum at Hang Ah and I also remember the smell of the Hills Brothers Coffee plant as we drove on the freeway to various destinations.

My parents, especially my mom, played Tony and Sinatra on their small stereo in the living room before I got my own Marantz receiver, Sony turntable and Copenhagen (from the original Good Guys store on Chestnut Street) speakers in my bedroom.

The whole column sparked images in my mind’s eye which is what great writing does. Thanks for creating it. It was a great read.

—- Jonathan.

Really nice job on today’s Tony Autopia. No shit: This was the best San Francisco-themed piece of writing I’ve read since the days of Herb Caen. And I’m not exaggerating.

You hit some quintessential San Francisco notes in this piece (the great Vince Guaraldi, an SF native; and Brubeck of course, a true Bay Area-r; and I thought I was the only one who could remember the words to KSFO’s signature jingle). And kudos for the Mercury to allow you the latitude to veer from the usual car review.

—- Jeff.

To read the original article visit: A Family Remembrance: Driving With Tony Bennett

Article Last Updated: August 15, 2023.

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