Songwriting Great Hal David Passes

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• September 3, 2012

Hal David at the Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner in New York in 2011. Photo: Charles Sykes/AP

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Hal David has died at age 91.

Due to a series of strokes, he had been in ill health for several months. He died on Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Lyricist Hal David is best known for many huge pop hits by artists such as Dionne Warwick, Gene Pitney, Dusty Springfield and B.J. Thomas that he co-wrote with Burt Bacharach. Their Broadway musical Promises, Promises won Tony Awards, and their “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” earned the team an Oscar.

But David’s catalog also includes a string of country successes in Nashville, including the evergreen “Sea of Heartbreak.” Several of these were written with collaborators other than Bacharach.

The Brooklyn native began his career as a journalist writing for the New York Post. Hal David is the younger brother of lyricist Mack David, and he began getting his earliest songs recorded in the late 1940s. Hal David co-wrote a number of successes before teaming up with Bacharach in 1957, including hits for Sammy Kaye, Frank Sinatra and Teresa Brewer. The first big Bacharach/David hit was the No. 1 country song “The Story of My Life,” sung by Marty Robbins in 1958.

The collaborators hit their stride in the 1960s, creating a staggering number of modern pop classics – “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “Alfie,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By,” “What’s New Pussycat,” “This Guy’s in Love with You,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “Make it Easy on Yourself,” “The Look of Love,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Wives and Lovers,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” “Blue on Blue,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” “A House Is Not a Home.” “Always Something There to Remind Me.” “Message to Michael,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and more.

A number of Mack David’s lyrics became popular in Nashville along the way. In addition to “The Story of My Life” and “Sea of Heartbreak” (originally sung by Don Gibson), “Only Love Can Break a Heart” (Sonny James), “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” (Randy Barlow) and “I Say a Little Prayer” (Glen Campbell & Anne Murray) all became country favorites.

After the Bacharach partnership was suspended in 1973, Hal David began traveling to Nashville to collaborate on songs. He co-wrote such chart-topping country hits as “It Was Almost Like a Song” (Ronnie Milsap) and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias).

Dottie West, Lynn Anderson, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, Wynonna Judd, Bobby Goldsboro, The Anita Kerr Singers, The Everly Brothers, Billie Jo Spears, Tony Joe White, Nat Stuckey, Chet Atkins, Bobbie Gentry, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ray Stevens, Ferlin Husky, Barbara Mandrell, Merle Haggard, Highway 101, Rosanne Cash and Alan Jackson have all recorded David’s songs.

Hal David served as the president of ASCAP in 1980-86. He was inducted into the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, was given a 1997 Trustees Award by the Recording Academy and received his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011. His induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame occurred in 1984.

In May, he and Bacharach received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize during a White House tribute concert. President Obama presented the honor. Due to his illness, David was unable to attend. His wife/widow Eunice David accepted on his behalf.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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