This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Hal David, lyricist.
Hal David’s name should be a lyric.
This prolific American lyricist who turned 90 on May 25, 2011, is chairman emeritus of the Songwriters Hall of Fame (having formerly been its chairman/CEO), and was recently awarded the organization's first Visionary Leadership Award.
Among David's vast song holdings are such gems as: “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” "What's New Pussycat?,” “Alfie,” “The Look of Love,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” “This Guy’s In Love With You,” “I'll Never Fall in Love Again,” “Do You Know the Way to San José,” “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “One Less Bell To Answer,” “Broken-Hearted Melody,” “Sea Of Heartbreak,” “My Heart Is An Open Book,” “Johnny Get Angry,” “A House is Not a Home,” "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” and “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.”
In addition, David wrote the lyrics for such film scores as “Alfie,” “What's New Pussycat?,” “Casino Royale,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The April Fools,” “Lost Horizon,” and “Moonraker,” among others; as well as for the Broadway show “Promises, Promises.”
Born in Manhattan in 1921, David’s family moved to Brooklyn when he was one. He began writing songs as a teenager. His older brother--a role model--was the renowned film and television songwriter Mack David.
During World War II, David was in the Army, and his unit was shipped overseas to Oahu Hawaii. There he was asked by Major Maurice Evans, a well-known English-born actor in charge of the Army Entertainment Section in the Central Pacific, to join his section.
David became a writer for the section’s shows that featured such future stars as Carl Reiner, Allen Ludden, and Werner Klemperer.
After his discharge from the Army in 1946, David, who had studied journalism at New York University, was a copywriter for the New York Post, while working his way into the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, and nearby 1650 Broadway; where he wrote lyrics with various collaborators with considerable success.
David’s career hit its full stride after he met pianist/arranger Burt Bacharach in the Brill Building offices of Famous Music in 1957. “He was experienced, and he had some hits, and knew the business more than I knew the business,” Bacharach later recalled. Soon after their meeting, the pair wrote “The Story of My Life,” recorded by Marty Robbins and “Magic Moments,” recorded by Perry Como.
The fusion of these two perfectionists created something bigger than the sum of the two parts, something that withstood the shifts of pop music taste and fashion, following the emergence of the Beatles, and Bob Dylan.
In 1961, Dionne Warwick’s uniquely dexterous voice caught their ears during a Drifters’ recording session for “Mexican Divorce,” a song written by Bacharach and Bob Hilliard. Warwick approached David and Bacharach to record some demos. The songwriting partners fell in love with her immediately, and she began to do all their demos.
Then Warwick did a breakthrough demo of “Make it Easy On Yourself,” recorded by Jerry Butler in 1962, that led to her being signed by Scepter Records, and her first hit “Don’t Make Me Over” in 1962.
In the ‘60s, David and Bacharach brilliantly guided Warwick, and produced a formidable collection of classics with her including: “Message to Michael,” “Windows of the World,” “Do You Know the Way to San José,” “I Say A Little Prayer,” “A House Is Not a Home,” “Walk on By,” and “Trains and Boats and Planes.”
Meanwhile, the two tunesmiths came up with the Oscar-winning “Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head,” performed by B.J. Thomas, and “What's New Pussycat?” that featured Tom Jones.
After his partnership with Bacharach had run its course, David co-wrote “To All the Girls I've Loved Before,” one of the most enduring hits of the modern pop music era, with singer/songwriter Albert Hammond. It was, of course, an international hit in 1984 for Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson.
Hal David’s website has the following invaluable account of his approach to writing lyrics. He has given his permission for its use here.
“Now, how do I go about the business of writing lyrics? I wish I really knew. If I did it would make writing much easier for me. Because I have no formula, sometimes it flows smoothly and other times it is like rowing a boat upstream. Most often a lyric starts with a title. A line in a book I am reading may set me off. Other times some dialogue in a play or a movie becomes the catalyst. More often than not the idea just pops into my head-where it comes from I hardly ever know.
In writing I search for believability, simplicity, and emotional impact. Believability is the easiest of the three to accomplish. One thing a lyricist must learn is not to fall in love with his own lines. Once you learn that, you can walk away from the lyric and look at it with a reasonable degree of objectivity. Often I discard a good line because it is inconsistent with the basic idea. If the line happens to be witty or sad in a particularly fresh way it hurts me to take it out. But that's part of the pain of writing.
Simplicity is much harder to achieve. It is easy to be simple and bad. Being simple and good is very difficult. The sophisticated Cole Porter, the earthy Irving Berlin, the poetic Oscar Hammerstein, and the witty Lorenz Hart all have one thing in common - simplicity, the kind that is good. I must also mention a special favorite of mine, Johnny Mercer. Whether he is being poetic or humorous, he is never complicated. I seek this elusive thing called simplicity always. I hope I sometimes achieve it.
Above all, I try to create an emotion to which others can respond. Unless I can create an emotion to which I can respond, I throw the lyric away. Although I cannot know how others will react, I assume that if it moves me it may do the same for them. Sometimes I am right, sometimes I am wrong.”
Over the years, David became deeply involved in music business organizations, including serving as the president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers from 1980 to 1986. He continues to be a director of ASCAP.
David is one of the most honored musical figures of our time.
He has been honored with practically every major award bestowed by the music industry. He was awarded the Grammy Trustees Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and the Ivor Novello Award from the British Performing Rights Society--the first non-British person to ever receive that award.
He has also been elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, elected to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and has been presented with the organization’s Johnny Mercer Award.
You were recently awarded the Songwriters Hall of Fame’s first Visionary Leadership Award.
I was very pleased about that. I must say that I have had a pretty good career. I’ve been the president of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) as well as the chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. I’m also in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
You must be aware that you have brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.
Yes, I am. The public has brought a lot of joy to me too.
Where is the most unlikely place you’ve heard your music?
Well, I’ve heard it in Africa. I’ve heard it all over Europe. I seem to hear it when I travel. I seem to hear it more when I am traveling than when I am at home.
You turned 90 on May 25th.
We are celebrating (my birthday) on Oct. 17th at the Taper Forum (the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles). We have a line-up of stars. A lot of the music people are going to be out here in October, and that is the ideal time (for the celebration).
You married Eunice in 1988. Did that result in you writing even more romantic songs?
Well, I’ve written a lot of romantic songs, and I think some of them turned out pretty good.
Artists and songwriters used to be separate groups. Singers didn’t write their own material; songs were usually co-written by a songwriting team, including a lyricist. The art of lyric writing—as exhibited by Lorenz Hart, Johnny Mercer, and Cole Porter--seems to have been lost over the years.
Well, you just mentioned Johnny Mercer and Larry Hart among the masters of the lyric writers. That (legacy) continued for awhile with Burt (Bacharach) and myself, with Leiber and Stoller, and with a lot of the teams that came up in the ‘60s, like Carole King and Gerry Goffin who is a lyric writer. At the moment, the art of lyrics seems to be in terrible danger of being extinct.
There is a considerable craft to that level of songwriting where a lyricist uses counterpoint, and inter-rhymes. You don’t see that much anymore.
You see very little of that. You also don’t hear wonderful melodies anymore. Here and there you do but, at one time, there were just great songs coming out all of the time.
[Hal David’s major influences are the great American composers like Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, and Irving Berlin. He once said of his favorite, Berlin, “He had the ability to take the most complex things and turn them into songs. And he made it look so damn simple. His work is like a textbook of great songwriting.”]
You once said that the song is more important than the recording because the song is fundamental.
I very much feel that way. The song is the most important item on a record. The recording couldn’t be done without the song.
When you started in music in the mid ‘40s, publishers were largely in and around the Brill Building on Broadway at 49th Street. Previously, West 28th Street was Tin Pan Alley in an earlier era when ragtime, vaudeville and advances in mass printing came together to create the first generation of music entrepreneurs.
That was the Tin Pan Alley of that time. The Brill Building was the Tin Pan Alley of our time.
In the early days, songwriters would go to the theatres and clubs, and play performers songs.
They would often do that with Al Jolson, and the big time vaudeville singers. In our time, we played most everything live too. We made demos if we sent (songs) out to California, but we played live for the record companies in New York. Burt would play the piano, and sing the song. I think George Gershwin was a (song) plugger at one point, as were many of the songwriters of note.
[George Gershwin's first job in music was as a song plugger for Jerome H. Remick and Company, a publishing firm on Tin Pan Alley, where he earned $15 a week. His first published song was "When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em” published in 1916 when he was only 17. He earned $5.]
Irving Berlin was his own one-man band for pitching his songs.
He sure was.
Did you ever meet him?
No, but when I became president of ASCAP, the first call that I made from our building on Broadway was to Irving Berlin. He was always the #1 songwriter (at ASCAP). He returned my call. I remember that he said, “Why do you want to be president for? You are such a good songwriter.”
He was one of the co-founders of ASCAP, which was formed in 1914 to protect the usage of music.
Well, there were bands (playing music) in the fancy restaurants (in New York)—that’s how ASCAP started. (Victor) Herbert went into Shanley’s Restaurant, and he was having dinner with his lawyer Nathan Burkan, and the band was playing songs from one of his operettas. He said, “I’m paying for my dinner and they are playing my music, and I’m not getting any money.” That was the beginning of ASCAP.
[ASCAP founder Victor Herbert had been appalled to hear “Sweethearts,” his hit song from the operetta of the same name, being played at the popular Shanley’s Restaurant in Times Square just up the street from the New Amsterdam Theatre where the opera was playing on Broadway.
While Herbert received royalties from the theatrical presentation, he wasn’t being paid a dime from the orchestra playing his music in the restaurant. To test the strength of his new performing rights organization ASCAP, Herbert brought a lawsuit against the restaurant.
The restaurant’s defense was that the performance was not for profit as there was no separate charge for the music.
The fight took two years, and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision of the Court that the performance was very much for profit. "If music did not pay,” he declared, “it would be given up. Whether it pays or not, the purpose of employing it is profit, and that is enough.”
Founded on Feb. 13th, 1914, at the Hotel Claridge in New York, ASCAP started out from a tiny room in the Fulton Theater Building. A kitchen table and a broken-down chair served as office furniture. Dues were $10 for writers and $50 for publishers.]
The music industry pays “lip service” to songwriters and to publishers—and there’s the phrase “it starts with a song”—but music publishers and songwriters have always had to fight for their rights.
Well, firstly everybody thinks that the artist wrote the song. In some cases that may be true. The overall picture is that the songwriter wrote the song. So you start out with that, and then there are people in Washington who think very much of the important artists who perform. They are anxious to meet them. They are not as anxious to meet the songwriter.
In this internet age, music publishers and songwriters continue to fight hard to protect their rights.
At this moment, the internet people, the Yahoos and the AOLs, they ask for a license from ASCAP and BMI, and we have to give them that license. We can’t negotiate with them at that point. If they want a license, they get a (mandatory) license. Then some of them say, “Well, our license protects us just in case we infringe. But, we don’t think that we are infringing.” At that point, they try very hard not to pay us for the use of the music. Then we take them to court. This takes years to settle, and the legal costs are astronomical. Of course, there’s less money than going to the publishers, and less money going to the writers.
After 2 1/2 years you were released from the Army, and went back to Brooklyn. You knew you wanted to be songwriter, and began going to the Brill Building around 1946.
Was the Brill Building era as magical as we read about?
Well, I thought it was magical. It was exciting. You had the 11 floors, and you started on the 11th floor, and you came down to the first. Or you started at the first floor, and went up to the 11th. You went from publisher to publisher to publisher. There might be three or four publishers on a floor. You met all of the songwriters, at least all of the eastern and New York songwriters, around. You tried to write with this guy and that guy. I wrote with Lee Pockriss, Leon Carr, and Sherman Edwards before I wrote with Burt. They were all very good composers.
In the beginning, if we could afford to, we’d often go to a restaurant called The Turf. There was a long table in the back of The Turf where the songwriters hung out. You had lunch there, and you would meet all of the fellas in town. You would be telling them about your songs and they would be telling you about their songs. They would be singing you their songs, and you would be singing them your songs. It was an exciting life.
Jerry Ragovoy recently passed away.
I felt very sad about that.
[Philadelphia-born Jerry Ragovoy wrote--or co-wrote--such classic R&B-styled songs as "Time Is on My Side," "Cry Baby,” "Piece of My Heart," “Stay With Me,” “Look at Granny Run Run,” and “Get It While You Can.” The songwriter/producer also conducted the orchestra and chorus on Frankie Avalon’s 1961 B-side “Gotta Get A Girl,” written by David and Bacharach. Ragovoy died July 13, 2011 of complications from a stroke. He was 80.]
Did you usually write in a room with other writers?
Yes, and outside the room—at home—to a melody. I usually wrote a lyric first, and someone wrote a melody to it.
Working with Burt Bacharach, did you write separately?
We’d write separately, but we wrote almost every day together. We had a room at Famous Music in the Brill Building on the 5th floor that looked out at the Rivoli Theatre (1620 Broadway at 49th Street.) We would be there almost every day. We’d come in with an idea. He would come in with a melodic something, and we’d work on that. In the meantime, I’d give him a lyric, he’d give me a melody. We were almost writing three songs at the same time.
Was the discipline among songwriters at the Brill Building due to competition?
Well, everybody was pretty much starting out. We were mostly beginners in the Brill Building. The most successful songwriters had places to go,had appointments to play their songs, so on and so forth. We were the beginners. We used to go around with our songs from office to office without an appointment. We’d go over to (publisher) Shapiro Bernstein, which was in another building, and we would wait and play (a song) for Louis Bernstein (also a successful Manhattan real estate investor). We would just wait our turn. I guess that the competition was always important, and pushed us forward.
Dionne Warwick was the perfect vehicle for your songs with Burt.
She came in, and wanted to do some demos for us. We listened to her. She just knocked us out, so she started to do demos with us. Then we took the demos up to Florence Greenberg at Scepter Records. She and (producer) Luther Dixon created a wonderful company (with a roster that included the Shirelles, Dionne Warwick, Chuck Jackson, Maxine Brown, and B.J. Thomas.) Steve Tyrell worked as a promotion man there. Florence created the Shirelles.
[In 1996, Steve Tyrell recalled working with Hal David and Burt Bacharach on Dionne Warwick sessions. “We would get a session together every 18 months or so. We'd say, "Let's do ‘Alfie' with Dionne.” The sessions would be about three hours with an hour overtime. We'd have a full orchestra with Burt out there conducting. We'd usually get four songs done in four hours. (Engineer) Phil Ramone would make a mono mix, and a stereo mix at the same time. A lot of times, that's what we'd go with. We'd decide what the single would be and master it.
“Then I'd get on the plane and go to Chicago to get it on the radio. It seemed like we could do no wrong there, for awhile. I think Dionne really was an incredible instrument in the Bacharach/David success. Her voice did something to those melodies, and those words that just made it come to life in a way that no one else could.”]
Dionne knew just how to sing your lyrics. How much preproduction went into working on her phrasing?
She enunciated pretty well right from the beginning. We rehearsed her long before we went into the studio. Burt did the arrangements, and he laid out how they were coming along. She had her schooling (for the song)—as far as we were concerned—with us way before each date.
Remarkably, you and Burt never had a #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with Dionne Warwick.
(Laughing) We did alright, anyway.
[The closest Dionne Warwick came to reaching the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 with David and Bacharach was with “(Theme From) Valley Of The Dolls” that was #2 for two weeks in 1968.]
With the British Invasion of the ‘60s, you and Burt had a dual career going with Dionne Warwick, Gene Pitney and others recording your songs in the U.S.; and Cilla Black, Sandy Shaw, Billy J. Kramer and others covering them in the UK .
And with Dusty Springfield there. They were covering all of our songs over there.
[In 1964, Dusty Springfield had a #3 U.K. hit with Bacharach and David’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” previously recorded by American singer Tommy Hunt. The same year she landed a #6 U.S. hit with “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” which Warwick had recorded as the B-side of single “This Empty Place.” For her 1964 debut album “A Girl Called Dusty, Springfield also recorded their songs “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” and “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa.”]
Interestingly, film director John Ford passed on using “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” as the title song for his 1962 film. Still, it went on to become Gene Pitney’s first #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100. You and Burt had to wait three more years until “What’s New Pussycat?” to break into film.
That’s the case. They tried to convince him (John Ford) to put it in but they couldn’t (get him to agree). The music department asked them to do it. Famous was the music arm of Paramount Pictures.
Your first major cover was with Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians in 1949?
Yes. Actually, the first cover Guy Lombardo published. It was "The Four Winds And The Seven Seas." There were the Lombardo brothers (Guy, Carmen, Lebert, and Victor) and (sister) Rose Marie who sang with the band. Don Rodney (aka Don Ragonese) was also the band’s singer, and the guitarist, and we wrote that song together. It was the most exciting thing that had happened to me up to that time.
[David’s first song to be recorded--with music by Lou Ricca--was “Horizontal” on RCA in 1946 performed by jazz singer and pianist Bunty Pendleton, wife of New York Daily News' Bob Sylvester, accompanied by pianist Pat Flowers and his group.
"The Four Winds And The Seven Seas" by Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians reached #19 on Billboard’s chart in 1949. 20 artists recorded the song, including Sammy Kaye, Mel Torme, Vic Damone, Herb Jeffries, and Bing Crosby.]
Then (bandleader) Sammy Kaye asked someone to have me come up to the Astor Hotel Roof on Broadway, where he and his band played. He wanted to talk to me. I hadn’t met him as yet. When I was up there, he called me over to his table and he said, “How would you like to work for me, kid? I have seen some of your songs, and I like your work.” I said, “Oh God. That is the most exciting thing. My heart is pounding.” He said to go to the Brill Building and meet with his business manager. They offered me a contract for $50 a week. That was like found money to me. I took it, and I was there for awhile.
What is your family’s background?
My parents were emigrants from Austria, and they came over to America as children. My mother and father were born at the turn of the century. So they came to America as children, and they came separately. They came without their parents. They were sent to cousins, uncles or aunts, whoever was here on the lower East Side (of New York).
My father went into the restaurant business as he got older. He met my mother, and they married. My mother was a cook, and my father got into the restaurant business. I was born in Manhattan, but the family came to Brooklyn when I was, maybe, one year old. We lived up above the restaurant. It was a delicatessen and restaurant. We all played music in my family. We were four. My oldest brother Mack was a songwriter— a very successful songwriter.
Were you a good violinist?
I was very so-so —and, that’s giving me an edge.
You’re one of those people who can’t play music so you decide to go into another part of the entertainment business?
Exactly, but (writing) was my ability. I was always good at writing stories, and writing poetry. Because of my older brother I was writing songs.
How good was your song “Shape Ahoy” from your Army days?
I wrote “Shape Ahoy” when I was in the army with Maurice Evans (later to be Samantha's father Maurice on the sitcom “Bewitched”), Allen Ludden, Werner Klemperer, and Carl Reiner. (The Section) was just fantastic. Carl was, and is, the funniest guy. We did a number of shows. We did “Shape Ahoy,” which was a variety show, and we did a musical show “Jumping Jupiter” which I wrote with Roger Hale and another composer whose name escapes me. The show was recorded by RCA Victor for the Army. It wasn’t for sale.
[“Jumping Jupiter” ran at the Roosevelt High School in Honolulu for six months. Harold W. Lanning Sr., also in The Special Services Entertainment Branch, recalls that Irving Berlin attended several of the shows.]
A big deal being recorded.
It was a big deal, at least in my life it was. It was just great. They had those huge long playing records—huge records. Somewhere along the way someone took those, and I couldn’t find them. Carl’s wife Estelle was a singer and she wanted to sing a song I wrote called, “Send A Salami to Your Boy In The Army.” I could never find the verses to that song, and I have never remembered them from such a way back.
[Singer/actress Estelle Reiner performed for decades, until just a few years before her death in 2008. She appeared in numerous films, including 1989's “When Harry Met Sally” in which her son, director Rob Reiner, cast her as a customer in a scene with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan at Katz's Delicatessen, in which Ryan fakes an orgasm. Approached by a waitress after Ryan finishes, Reiner delivered one of the most memorable lines in film history, "I’ll have what she’s having.”]
When you came out of the Army, was your brother Mack helpful in getting you into the music business?
I think he was. But I think he was both a help and a hindrance. When I say hindrance, if people would think about me, they would suddenly think about my brother. Then they’d call my brother. He tried to help me, and he did help me meet people, and so forth. But the simple fact that he was my brother kind of hindered my growth in the business at that early stage.
[Mack David began writing songs for Tin Pan Alley in the late 1930s.
His song "Moon Love,” co-written with Mack Davis and Andre Kostelanetz, was a #1 hit for the Glenn Miller & His Orchestra in 1939. It was also recorded by Al Donohue, Paul Whiteman and Mildred Bailey. In 1945, Mack wrote the lyrics, for Duke Ellington's "I'm Just A Lucky So-And-So." In 1947, his novelty song "Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba” was a #1 hit for Perry Como, and a hit for Peggy Lee, Blue Barron, and the Afro-American gospel group, the Charioteers.
In 1948, Mack David moved to Hollywood, where he worked in film and television.
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," introduced in the 1950 Disney film “Cinderella,” and performed by actress Verna Felton, was the first of eight Academy Award nominations Mack David would receive.
The other nominations were for such title songs as "The Hanging Tree" (with Jerry Livingston 1959); "Bachelor In Paradise" (with Henry Mancini in 1961); "Walk On The Wild Side" (with Elmer Bernstein in 1962); "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (with Ernest Gold in 1961); “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (with Frank De Vol 1964); "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" (with Jerry Livingston in 1965); and "My Wishing Doll" (from “Hawaii” written with Elmer Bernstein in 1966.)
Together, Mack David and Livingston wrote theme songs for numerous television series, including: “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Bourbon Street Beat,” and “Surfside 6.” The pair also wrote the theme song “This Is It” for “The Bugs Bunny Hour.”
In 1950, Mack David wrote the English language rendition of "La Vie En Rose." In 1961, the Shirelles had a hit with "Baby, It's You,” co-written by Mack David, Burt Bacharach, and Luther Dixon.
Mack David was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975. He died in 1993.]
Mack was older?
He was nine years older.
He was pretty well established by the time you started out as a songwriter.
He was very established. He had a wonderful career.
You two didn’t write together?
We wrote one song together which Warner Brothers published and it never got a record. I don’t think it ever got played (to anyone). It was a song that had a Latin melody. My brother asked me to collaborate on it with him.
Burt wrote with him.
Yep. I know one song that they did together ("Baby, It's You"). He was entitled to write with whomever he wished, and I certainly did.
In 1950, Frank Sinatra recorded “American Beauty Rose” which you co-wrote with Redd Evans and Arthur Altman—a major achievement for a young songwriter.
It is one of my favorite lyrics, and one of my favorite songs. We played it for Mitch Miller (the head of A&R at Columbia Records) and he gave it to Frank.
Three decades later, Frank Sinatra recorded “To Love A Child” which you co-wrote with Joe Raposo.
Nancy Reagan compiled a book of Foster Grandparents, and she said to her agent “We should have a song about this with the title. Who should we get?" He said, “Hal David.” I immediately tried to reach out Joe Raposo at the time. So we got together, and we wrote it. She loved the song, and the President (Ronald Reagan) loved the song, and Frank recorded it.
["To Love a Child" was the theme song for the Foster Grandparents program initiated by Nancy Reagan in 1982. It was first performed on the South Lawn of the White House to an audience of 800 foster grandparents and children without rehearsal by Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra at the program's White House launch.
All profits from the song and Nancy Reagan's book went to the Foster Grandparents program. "To Love a Child" was released as a single by Frank Sinatra that was arranged by Don Costa, featuring Costa's daughter, Nikka Costa. Sample lyrics: "To love a child/ You start with a smile/ And after a while/ A hug and a kiss/ It takes no more than this/ To love a child."
You became CEO and president (later chairman) of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in the mid-‘90s. Why did you take that on?
I was president of ASCAP for awhile (1980 to1986). Marty Bandier (currently chairman and CEO, Sony/ATV Music Publishing) called me one day. I was in Germany. He said they needed someone capable to really run (the organization) after Sammy Cahn died (in 1993). He asked me. I thought it over. I asked my wife. I asked the CEO of ASCAP, John LoFrumento. They all thought it was a good idea. So I did it for about ten years, and then I stepped down.
[An arm of the National Academy of Popular Music, the Songwriters Hall of Fame was co-founded in 1969 by American songwriter Johnny Mercer, Canadian folk legend Oscar Brand, New York-based music publishers Howie Richmond, and Abe Olman of The Richmond Organization. The organization’s first president was Mercer. Upon his death in 1976, Sammy Cahn was recruited. When Cahn died in 1993, Bobby Weinstein became president.
Following reported in-fighting within the Board, Hal David was brought in to head up the National Academy of Popular Music, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Weinstein resigned.]
Was it a rewarding run for you?
For awhile, it was very rewarding, and then it began to be too much the same.
At 90, you remain competitive in music. You have been writing with composer/conductor John Cacavas.
I did a few albums with him. I’m now in the midst of doing a show with Charlie Fox.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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