Marin Arts & Culture May 2017 - Page 18

Singing the Praises of the Golden Gate Bridge I t’s not easy singing the praises of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I keep trying. I’ve been doing it officially for 20 years. Here’s the story. District. Whether she was joking or not, she challenged me: “You’re a singer- songwriter. Why don’t you write a real tribute to the bridge?” In 1997, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, then under the leadership of former Marin resident John Marks, hosted a member’s luncheon at the Moscone Center. The occasion was the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. The featured speaker, Charles Osgood was at that time the host of the television show, CBS’ Sunday Morning. At the conclusion of his talk, he said: “People have asked me if there is an official song for the Golden Gate Bridge? Of course there is!” With that he whipped out his ever-present banjo. He began to sing over and over to the opening bars of “The Blue Danube” waltz: “The Golden Gate Bridge” plunk-plunk, plunk-plunk. “The Golden Gate Bridge,” plunk-plunk, plunk- plunk. Everyone had a good laugh. The luncheon ended, and the guests began heading for the door. As a native San Franciscan who began his career singing with the San Francisco Boys Chorus, and went on to perform at many of the city’s important venues, sharing the stage with Nat Cole, Johnnie Ray, Leontyne Price and soloing with Duke Ellington, I felt up to the task. On my way out, I was stopped by one of the members of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation 18 MARIN ARTS & CULTURE I’ve always been a wordsmith. Growing up in San Francisco and a lifelong student of its history, I had that part handled. As on-air talent for KSFO/KYA radio I broadcasted four hours live from the Golden Gate Bridge on its 50th anniversary. What I needed now was a composer, someone who could create a melody worthy of the span to which I could feather in appropriate lyrics. Then I thought of someone I knew would be perfect—Bob Voss. Although the late songwriter was from New York, not San Francisco, he had the kind of ability that had distinguished the two New Yorkers who wrote, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” George Cory and Douglass by Noah Griffin Cross. After spending four hours with his wife Beryl on a picnic at Crissy Field in the shadow of the bridge, Voss returned to their Nob Hill apartment and laid out an elegant paean—it almost wrote itself. Adding lyrics to his composition was a joy. The only thing lacking was a verse, which my old friend, San Francisco Chronicle writer and pianist, the late Sandy Zane used to refer to as the “mother-in-law.” So I came up with one—and we had a song. Next, we had the song arranged, rented a recording studio, hired strings and produced a video, which combined stock and fresh footage of the bridge. We had ourselves what we thought was a sure-bang winner. But wait—not so fast there buckaroo!