Saturday, August 28, 2010

George David Weiss - American Songwriter

One of my favorite songwriters passed away this past Monday. It finally made the local papers today. George David Weiss, the man who chronicled several decades with hit songs such as "Can't Help Falling In Love", "Wheel of Fortune", "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", and "What A Wonderful World" was 89 years young. I say young because a person with that much music in his heart is never really old. Our bones may creak a bit, and it might hurt to move around some, but if you can still appreciate, or maybe even just hum, one of your favorite songs, you're never truly old. Music is what keeps us immortal. It's the rhythm of our lives.

Mr. Weiss co- wrote many of the hit songs that comprise the soundtrack of the late 1940's "big band" era, most notably with Frank Sinatra's version of "Oh! What It Seemed to Be", and on through the 1950's, when he helped to write such classics as Ella Fitzgerald's "Lullaby of Birdland", Patti Page's "Confess", and my all time favorite "Wheel of Fortune" performed by Kay Starr. That these songs continue to appear in movies, such as "L.A. Confidential", underscores the impact that they had on the era in which they were written. Here's a short version of Kay Starr, live, doing "Wheel of Fotune" on The Wayne Newton Show;

He remained productive as a songwriter through the 1960's with such classics as "Can't Help Falling In Love" in 1961 for the Elvis Presley film "Blue Hawaii." He shared credit on this song with partners Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, both of whom he had met while scoring films, and on Broadway shows, including "Mr. Wonderful", which ran for 383 performances from 1956 to 1957. Co-written with Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener, it was a musical comedy written for Sammy Davis Jr and which co-starred Chita Rivera. He also co-wrote "First Impressions" in 1959, based on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", and "Maggie Flynn" in 1968, once again co-written with Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti.

When Mr. Weiss and his colleagues penned "Can't Help Falling In Love", the producers of "Blue Hawaii" were looking for another "Hound Dog" type of song, but they got a wonderful ballad instead. And Elvis considered it one of his all time favorite songs. He sung it at all of his concerts, right up until he passed away in 1977. Listen to it here;

And no writing about Mr. Weiss would be complete without recounting the story behind "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." This song was based on the 1939 South African-Zulu song/chant "Mbube", which was written by Solomon Linda, and is the Zulu word for "the lion." In 1952 it was re-recorded by The Weavers and entitled "Wimoweh", with it's signature falsetto backup vocals. By adding the original chant to the harmonies suggested by the Weaver's recording, Mr. Weiss created the song we know today. In the late 1990's there was a legal dispute over who really owned the rights to the song, which was finally settled to the satisfaction of all parties, including Solomon Linda's. Listen to the Tokens version here;

With the hit by Louis Armstrong in 1967 of "What A Wonderful World", co-written with the late Bob Thiele, he had crossed all lines of creativity, encompassing the sounds of jazz, pop, soul and rhythm and blues in this remarkable crossover hit. And along the way he wrote, and produced some remarkable plays. Not too bad for a Jewish kid from New York. His music, and spirit will be missed.

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