Sunday, September 2, 2012

A tribute to legendary lyricist Hal David


By Emmanuel Legrand

The news of Hal David's death this Saturday at the age of 91 will sadden all those who like good songs and who have been enjoying his works, especially those he penned with his main partner in songwriting, Burt Bacharach. Together, they have certainly given the world more timeless songs than most, securing their place in the Pantheon of great songwriters.

In the world of lyricists, David was in a league of his own. His lyrics were apparently simple, but you could detect serious craftsmanship behind them because they would always fit perfectly the song. Words were meaningful but never pompous, and there was never a word in the wrong place. There was also a perfect combination between the lyrics and the melodies. It flowed without glitches.

David was also an activist on behalf of the songwriting community: in 1974 he joined the board of US authors' society ASCAP and eventually became its president from 1980 to 1986. With his ASCAP relentlessly walked the corridors of power in Washington, DC, representing the voices of thousands of songwriters. Unfortunately, he had been unable to attend earlier this year a reception in the honour of Burt Bacharach and himself at the White House, during which President Obama presented them with the GershwinPrize, recognising what Obama described as “two kings of songwriting”.

Last year, Hal David was celebrated at the ASCAP Awards in London. David was frail but was there in person, his wife always by his side, as he was receiving with good grace and modesty all the proofs of respect and, dare I say, love from the audience which consisted mostly of fellow songwriters.

He regaled the crowd with anecdotes of his first trip to the UK, straight out from the Brill Building, meeting the likes of Tom Jones, who was going to perform 'What's New, Pussycat?'. Even if he spent his career putting his words in other people's mouths, he came across as a great story teller and he received a well deserved standing ovation.

That evening, I was introduced to him by Karen Sherry from ASCAP. I congratulated him on his achievements and told him that his songs meant to all of us in the room. I could not resist telling him that we had at least one thing in common – our day of birth. He was very gracious and said that was a very good birth date! I could not disagree with him.

[Typed while listening to 'The Love Songs Of Burt Bacharach' (Universal)]

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