Four weeks after the death of Marvin Hamlisch, the music world has lost another Jewish legend. Hal David, whose partnership with Burt Bacharach produced some of the most memorable pop songs of the last fifty years, died at age 91 on September 1 from a stroke in Los Angeles.
Harold Lane David was born in New York City to Gedalier and Lina (née Goldberg) David, Austrian-Jewish immigrants who owned a deli in Brooklyn. David’s older brother Mack became a successful songwriter first, writing “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” for Patti Page and the lyrics for “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So,” which was recorded by Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. Mack discouraged Hal from pursuing a songwriting career, leading Hal to take a stint as an advertising copywriter for the New York Post before entering the army, where he wrote songs and skits.
Ignoring his brother’s advice, David decided to try writing songs after returning home from the army. In 1957, David met composer Burt Bacharach in Manhattan’s fabled Brill Building. “The Story of My Life,” recorded by Marty Robbins, was their first hit in 1957. Later that year they wrote “Magic Moments,” which became a hit for Perry Como.
The duo met Dionne Warwick in 1961 when she was a 20-year-old backup singer. The pair would go onto write dozens of singles for Warwick, including “Walk On By,” “Message to Michael,” “Alfie,” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” Though Warwick was something of a muse for the two, they also produced hits for other artists such as The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield, B.J. Thomas, and Tom Jones, for whom “What’s New, Pussycat?” from the film of the same name remains one of his signature songs.
David was nominated for four Academy Awards for his film work, winning the Oscar along with Bacharach for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
In 1968, David and Bacharach adapted Billy Wilder’s classic 1960 film The Apartment into the hit Broadway musical Promises, Promises. The show ran for 1,281 performances and won a Tony Award for leading man Jerry Orbach. The show was also nominated for a Tony for best musical and won a Grammy for best score from an original cast album.
David and Bacharach parted ways in the early 1970s but David would go on to have success with other composers, such as when he collaborated with Albert Hammond to write “To All the Girls I Loved Before,” which became a #5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias in 1984. It was also a breakthrough for Iglesias in the English language market.
David was chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) from 1980 – 1986.
“As a lyric writer, Hal was simple, concise and poetic – conveying volumes of meaning in fewest possible words and always in service to the music,” said current ASCAP president Paul Williams said. “It is no wonder that so many of his lyrics have become part of our everyday vocabulary and his songs…the backdrop of our lives.”
David’s first wife, Anne, died in 1987. He is survived by two sons, Jim and Craig, and his second wife, Eunice.