What a Wonderful World, Can't Help Falling in Love and Stay With Me Baby were a few of the many hits written or co-written by the American songwriter George David Weiss, who has died aged 89. His career spanned Broadway, rock'n'roll and soul music and in his later years he was an ardent advocate of copyright as president of the Songwriters Guild of America.
Weiss was born into a Jewish family in New York City, where he attended Seward Park high school and City college. He wanted to pursue a career in music but his mother was adamant that he should train to be a lawyer. The subsequent battle of wills led his mother to consult a doctor, who asked her: "What would you rather have? A live bum of a musician or a dead lawyer?" She relented and Weiss went on to gain a degree in music theory from the Juilliard School, where he excelled as a multi-instrumentalist, performing on piano, violin, saxophone and clarinet.
The entry of the US into the second world war prevented him from embarking on a professional career, but he served as an army bandmaster until 1945, when he launched himself as an arranger and composer. He wrote scores for the big bands of Stan Kenton and Johnny Richards but was much more successful as a songwriter. In 1946, he formed a partnership with Bennie Benjamin, a black performer and lyricist, and in that year they had three No 1 hits: Perry Como's Surrender, Frankie Carle's Rumors Are Flying and Frank Sinatra's Oh, What It Seemed to Be. Weiss and Benjamin had buttonholed Sinatra to play him their song; Weiss recalled that "before I finished it, Sinatra was on the phone to the record company telling them he just heard a great song and wanted to record it".
The run of hits continued into the early 1950s and included Confess, by Patti Page (1948), and Wheel of Fortune, by Kay Starr (1952). Weiss also wrote the lyrics for Lullaby of Birdland, the jazz standard composed by the pianist George Shearing.
Weiss branched out into musical theatre and composing for the films. His most successful Broadway show was Mr Wonderful, which ran for 383 performances from 1956 to 1957. Co-written with Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener, this musical comedy was conceived as a vehicle for Sammy Davis Jr and co-starred Chita Rivera. Weiss also collaborated on First Impressions (1959), a musical based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and Maggie Flynn (1968), co-written with Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti, whom he had met in the late 50s. Through them, he gained an entree into the new world of teenage music. Together they wrote one of Weiss's most enduring and lucrative songs, Can't Help Falling In Love. It was pitched to Elvis Presley's manager and chosen for inclusion in the 1961 Presley film Blue Hawaii. With a tune based on an 18th-century French melody, it was a No 1 hit for Elvis and became a staple of his stage show at Las Vegas in the 70s, often serving as an encore.
Hugo and Luigi, as they were known throughout the music industry, were businessmen as well as writers and through their executive roles at RCA and Avco Records they brought Weiss's songs to younger musicians such as the Philly soul group the Stylistics, who had hits in the 70s with Let's Put It All Together and Thank You Baby. Weiss also wrote Stay With Me Baby with soul producer Jerry Ragovoy. Lorraine Ellison's dramatic rendering of the song is justly regarded as a classic of the genre.
The most controversial episode in Weiss's career concerned The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a big hit for the Tokens in 1961, which was revived for the 1994 Disney film The Lion King. Of South African origin, the song had been introduced to America by the folk singer Pete Seeger as a traditional piece called Wimoweh. Weiss, Hugo and Luigi then added new lyrics and a new title, but it was later discovered that the song originated in a composition by the Zulu musician Solomon Linda. Complex lawsuits ensued as Linda's family sought a share of the royalties from The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
The most notable of Weiss's songs is What a Wonderful World, which he wrote in 1967 with another music business veteran, Bob Thiele. Louis Armstrong's version of the song was a worldwide hit the following year. It inspired numerous recordings by other artists and was used in the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam.
In the 80s, Weiss turned from songwriting to advocacy for his fellow professionals as president of the Songwriters Guild of America. Perhaps unconsciously fulfilling his mother's ambitions for him, he was a familiar figure at congressional hearings into copyright reform and music piracy, testifying as to the vital importance of intellectual property protection for composers.
Weiss was married three times. He is survived by his wife, Claire; two sons and a daughter from his first marriage, to Bea Foster; a son from his second marriage, to Rosalyn Marks; his sister, Harriet; and eight grandchildren.
Bob Thiele (27 lipca 1922 - 30 stycznia 1996) was an American record producer who worked on countless classic jazz albums and record labels.
Bob Thiele was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York on July 27, 1922. He hosted a jazz radio show when he was 14. He also played clarinet and led a band in the New York area. At 17 he founded the Signature Records label and recorded many jazz greats, including Lester Young, Erroll Garner and, in 1943, Coleman Hawkins. Signature folded in 1948 and he joined Decca Records in 1952, running its Coral Records subsidiary. His wife was the singerTeresa Brewer, whom he met and produced while working for Decca Records in the 1950s.
He took over as head of Impulse! Records from 1961-69 after founder Creed Taylor went to run Verve Records. Thiele's best known association while at Impulse! was with John Coltrane, but he also recorded such artists as Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, and Albert Ayler among others. His most successful hit song was with Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", which he co-wrote with George David Weiss. According to Thiele's memoir, the recording session for this now-famous song was the scene of a major clash with ABC Records president Larry Newton, who had to be locked out of the studio after getting into a heated argument with Thiele over the song. "What a Wonderful World" was credited to George Douglas or Stanley Clayton. These are pseudonyms Thiele used, made from the names of his uncles, Stanley, Clayton, George, and Douglas.
In the late 1960s Thiele was often brought in to produce artists on the company's Bluesway Records label. He produced the albums that graduated blues giant B.B. King toward the mainstream, including Lucille (1967), Live and Well (1968), and Completely Well (1969), the last biggest seller of King's career to that point. He also produced BluesWay recordings by John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, and others. Live and Well (1968), and Completely Well (1969) were produced by Bill Szymczyk NOT Bob Thiele.
After seven years with ABC Records, the parent of Impulse!, Thiele formed his own company, Flying Dutchman Productions, in 1968. Thiele later formed his own record label, Flying Dutchman Records, which is now part of Sony Music Entertainment. Later in his career Thiele formed Red Baron Records, which released a number of albums on compact disc, including three by the Bob Thiele Collective, each a different "all-star" group which Thiele himself assembled and produced. In 1995 he released a memoir titled What a Wonderful World.
Thiele remained active in the music business until the end, including the co-writing of the song "You," which was recorded by Bonnie Raitt and appeared on her 1994 album Longing in Their Hearts.
See also: Category:Albums produced by Bob Thiele.
1967: Thoroughly Modern (ABC)
1968: Light My Fire (impulse!)
1969: Head Start (as 'Bob Thiele Emergency') (Flying Dutchman Records)
1975: I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood (Flying Dutchman Records)
1984: The Twenties Score Again (Columbia)
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