“Walk On By” songwriter, Hal David Is Dead at 91

“Walk On By”  songwriter, Hal David died Saturday morning as a result of complications that arose from a recent stroke. The lyricist was 91 years old. David’s simple, heartfelt lyrics made a perfect fit to Burt Bacharach’s quirky melodies and resulted in dozens of hit songs that were considered standards, including “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

He had suffered a major stroke in March and was stricken again on Tuesday, according to his wife, Eunice.

“Even at the end, Hal always had a song in his head,” Eunice David said. “He was always writing notes, or asking me to take a note down, so he wouldn’t forget a lyric.”

You can always tell a good lyricist-songwriter by the number of people that want to perform their music, and David was not just good, he was one of the best. Here is just a list of some of the people that recorded “Walk On By:”  Isaac Hayes, Dionne Warwick, The Stranglers, Leroy van Dyke, Kelly Clarkson,  Seal, Cal Tjader, Diana Krall,  and U2.

David and Bacharach won an Oscar for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (from the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), Grammys and Tonys for the songs from the hit Broadway musical “Promises, Promises,” as well as other top 40 hits including “Close to You” and “That’s What Friends Are For.”

Many of the duo’s lyrics and tunes continue to resonate in pop culture, including “I Say A Little Prayer, ” “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” and “This Guy’s in Love with You,” Their music was recorded by legendary singers including The Beatles, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and their longtime partner Dionne Warwick.

David joined the board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 1974 and served as president 1980 to 1986. He was head of the Songwriters Hall of Fame from 2001 to 2011, and was Chairman Emeritus at his death.

“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,” ASCAP’s current president, the songwriter Paul Williams, said in a statement. “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.”

In May, Bacharach and David received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song during a White House tribute concert attended by President Barack Obama.

Bacharach, 83, thanked Obama, saying the award for his life’s work topped even the Oscars and Grammys he won for individual projects. David could not attend. Eunice David, accepted on his behalf.

“It was thrilling,” she said. “Even though he wasn’t there, Hal said it was the highest honor he had ever received.”

More than 55 years after their first songs hit the airwaves, Obama said “these guys have still got it.” He noted their music is still being recorded by such artists as Alicia Keys and John Legend.

“Above all, they stayed true to themselves,” Obama said. “And with an unmistakable authenticity, they captured the emotions of our daily lives – the good times, the bad times, and everything in between.”

David and Bacharach met when both worked in the Brill Building, New York’s legendary Tin Pan Alley song factory where writers cranked out songs and attempted to sell them to music publishers. They scored their first big hit with “Magic Moments,” a million-selling record for Perry Como.

In 1962 they began writing for a young singer named Dionne Warwick, whose versatile voice conveyed the emotion of David’s lyrics and easily handled the changing patterns of Bacharach’s melodies. Together the trio created a succession of popular songs that also rose the the level of being called Standard songs,  including “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer.” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Trains and Boats and Planes,” “Anyone Who Has a Heart,” “You’ll Never Get to Heaven” and “Always Something There to Remind Me.”

The pair also wrote hit songs for numerous other singers: “This Guy’s in Love with You” (trumpeter Herb Alpert in his vocal debut), “Make It Easy on Yourself” (Jerry Butler), “What the World Needs Now is Love” (Jackie DeShannon) and “Wishin’ and Hopin’” (Dusty Springfield). They also turned out title songs for the movies “What’s New, Pussycat” (Tom Jones), “Wives and Lovers” (Jack Jones) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” (Gene Pitney). These too were considered above the hit song category and therefore classified as Standards.

In a 1999 interview, David explained his success as a lyricist this way: “Try and tell a narrative. The songs should be like a little film, told in three or four minutes. Try to say things as simply as possible, which is probably the most difficult thing to do.”

The writer, who lived in New York, often flew to Los Angeles, where he and Bacharach would hole up for a few weeks of intense songwriting. Sometimes they conferred by long-distance telephone; “I Say a Little Prayer” was written that way.

The hit-making team broke up after the 1973 musical remake of “Lost Horizon.” They had devoted two years to the movie, only to see it scorned by critics and audiences alike. Bacharach became so depressed he sequestered himself in his vacation home and refused to work.

Bacharach and David sued each other and Warwick sued them both. The cases were settled out of court in 1979 and the three went their separate ways. They reconciled in 1992 for Warwick’s recording of “Sunny Weather Lover.”

David, meanwhile, went on to collaborate successfully with several other composers: John Barry with the title song of the James Bond film “Moonraker;” Albert Hammond with “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” which Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson dueted on; and Henry Mancini with “The Greatest Gift” in “The Return of the Pink Panther.”

Born in New York City, David had attended public schools before studying journalism at New York University.

He served in the Army during World War II, mostly as a member of an entertainment unit in the South Pacific.

After the war, he wrote lyrics for several composers until that fateful Brill Building meeting with Bacharach.

David was married to Eunice David for 25 years. He had two sons, Jim and Craig, from a previous marriage to Anne Rauchman.

My own personal memory of the songwriter began in the 1960s. Often times I would look at an album cover and see Hal David’s name appear on every song that Burt Bacharach’s name appeared just above the lyricist. I became acquainted with the songwriter every time I listened to the music that was commonly called a Bacharach tune. In fact, the songs, which were quite popular, and timeless, were usually known as Bacharach tunes to teenagers and young adults.

But as you began to get more familiar with Bacharach, because he kept pouring out hit after hit after hit, you slowly learned about his partner, Hal David; and how could you not, after all, you were steadily singing the lyrics, and they were Hal David’s lyrics. I was singing songs like “What the world needs now is love sweet love, It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Oh and one of my favorites: “If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet, walk on by, walk on by, foolish pride, is all that I have left so let me hide, the tears and the sadness you gave me, when you said goodbye, walk on by.” I could sing his timeless songs forever.  The music, oh yea back to Burt,  yes it too was incredible, but you found the lyrics equally incredible. Eventually, you realized the music accompanied the lyrics because David’s lyrics penetrated the soul. David was entrusted with one of the most incredible gifts:  He could write perfectly heartfelt timeless lyrics unlike anyone historically before his time and yet they were songs for all times. David’s gift made him unique among lyricists worldwide.

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