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Tony Bennett Day tribute devoid of Tony Bennett performance

Mayor presents key to the city

It was standing room only in city hall on Tuesday afternoon.

San Francisco City Hall found itself inundated with a multitude of San Franciscans today, as hundreds of Tony Bennett fans descended on the civic center to see the singing icon.

After waiting through a line that wrapped a quarter of the way around city hall, attendees crowded their way into the rotunda, the hallways around it, and the railing on the two floors above it in order to catch a glimpse of Bennett. The festivities began with a performance by the San Francisco Boys and Girls choruses, who performed a rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Many kind words were said about Bennett, who first performed the song in 1961 and first recorded it in 1962. Mayor Ed Lee proclaimed today to be Tony Bennett Day, in honor of the 50th anniversary of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and after a long speech presented the singer with the key to the city. Bennett, 85, graciously accepted the plaudits that had been heaped on him by officials like Lee and former assembly speaker Willie Brown, and then returned to his seat.

After this, the audience was treated to another rendition of the song by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, and immediately after that was encouraged to sing along with all the choruses at once. Then came some wild applause and an awkward moment when all the choir members, officials, and Bennett filed out of the rotunda while the audience gradually realized that he wasn’t going to perform.

Despite the general feeling of disappointment–several people exiting could be heard remarking that they had thought the legendary singer would perform his own song–the significance and impact of the song were not overstated.

David Reel, a vice president at an architectural firm, came to the tribute on his lunch break for a number of reasons. For one, his 12-year-old daughter Sydney was performing as a member of the Girls Chorus. After hearing her sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in the shower for more than a month, he was ready to hear her sing it with the rest of the chorus.

“The song has a lot of meaning for people,” Reel said. “It’s iconic.” In Reel’s case, it was the last song performed at his wedding.

While Bennett did not sing at his city tribute, he is scheduled to sing at a sold-out benefit tonight for heart research at UCSF.

Tony Bennett Day comes on the heels of Bennett extending his number of Grammy Award wins to 17 this weekend for his number one CD, Duets II. His first Grammy? It was awarded in 1963 for “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”