August 30, 2010

Remembering George David Weiss

The music world is a bit more silent with the passing of George David Weiss this week. One of all-time great hit composers ("What a Wonderful World", "Can't Help Falling in Love", "Lion Sleeps Tonight", and so many more), he was truly one of the best. He was a personal friend and mentor to me for many years. I first met George in 1980 in New Haven where he and Sheila Davis came up from NYC to teach us how to critique songs. Over the years, I had regular dinner conversations with George before his 15 appearances with CSA (we'd often meet at Friendly's) and we corresponded many times by letter (yes, the handwritten kind). In 1994 he wrote a personal endorsement for me recommending that I be appointed as Connecticut State Troubadour, which I was that year. He always commented on how much he appreciated the songwriting articles I wrote, which he said "finally made it all understandable" for him. He will be missed.

Here is his full Obituary:

George David Weiss, who authored such signature pop songs as Elvis Presley's “Can't Help Falling in Love" and Louis Armstrong's “What a Wonderful World," died Aug. 23 of natural causes in Oldwick, N.J. He was 89.
Weiss served as President of the Songwriers Guild of America for many years. He studied at the Juilliard School of Music before working as an arranger for the bands of Stan Kenton and Vincent Lopez.

His early stage efforts included the music for Sammy Davis Jr.'s 1956 Broadway vehicle “Mr. Wonderful." His later legit shows included “First Impressions" and “Maggie Flynn."

In 1961, Weiss co-authored “Can't Help Falling in Love," an adaptation of the French standard “Plaisir d'Amour," with producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore. Included on the soundtrack for Presley's film “Blue Hawaii," it rose to No. 2 on the national charts; Presley used it in later years as a closer for his live shows.

Weiss, Peretti and Creatore also collaborated on an adaptation of South African musician Solomon Linda's “Mbube." The Americanized version, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight," became a hit in successive versions by the Tokens, England's Karl Denver and Robert John.

Penned with producer-writer Bob Thiele, “What a Wonderful World" was not a success for Armstrong on its initial single release in 1968. However, it reached the top 40 in 1988 after it was used in the pic “Good Morning Vietnam," and became a standard thanks to constant employment in films, TV and advertising.

Weiss' other well-known compositions included “Lullabye of Birdland" (written with jazz pianist George Shearing), “Wheel of Fortune" (a 1952 smash for Kay Starr) and “Stay With Me" (a memorable vehicle for R&B singer Lorraine Ellison, penned with producer-writer Jerry Ragavoy).

His other screen credits included the Disney cartoon features “Melody Time" and “Fun and Fancy Free," Presley's “Wild in the Country," “Gidget Goes to Rome" and “Murder Inc."