It was originally an Italian success by Mina, at the Sanremo Music Festival, entitled "Piano" ("Softly"). Mina published a recording of the song first as a single in 1960 and later as well on an EP and on three LPs.
The English songwriter Hal Shaper noticed the song and in November 1961 wrote English lyrics to the melody, calling it "Softly, as I Leave You." The best known versions are those by Matt Monro (#10 on the British charts in 1962) and Frank Sinatra (#27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #4 on the adult contemporary chart in 1964). The Sinatra family announced Frank's death on May 14, 1998 by placing an announcement on their website that was accompanied by a recording of the singer's version of the song.
When he performed the song live in Las Vegas, Elvis Presley prefaced with a story about the origins of the song. Presley said the song originated when a man was dying and his wife was sitting by his bedside. As she began to doze off, he felt himself beginning to die and he wrote the words to the song on a notepad. However, Elvis insiders claim that his explanation for the song was merely an example of Presley's flair for storytelling, so his explanation is most likely apocryphal. Elvis said he heard the story "from some people in Florida." Elvis doesn't actually sing this song; he speaks the words while his Irish backing tenor Sherrill Nielsen sings it. Elvis's one recorded version of this song was a bootleg made by a fan in Las Vegas in December 1975. RCA was able to release it commercially later and it now appears on the boxed set "Walk A Mile In My Shoes: The Essential 70's Masters."