LOS ANGELES — Hal David, the stylish, heartfelt lyricist who teamed with Burt Bacharach on dozens of timeless songs for movies, television and a variety of recording artists in the 1960s and beyond, has died. He was 91.
David died of complications from a stroke Saturday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to his wife Eunice David.
He had suffered a major stroke in March and was stricken again on Tuesday, she said.
“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.”
Bacharach and David were among the most successful teams in modern history, with top 40 hits including “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “That’s What Friends Are For.” Although most associated with Dionne Warwick, their music was recorded by many of the top acts of their time, from Barbra Streisand to Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin. They 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.”
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 because he was recovering from a stroke. 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 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,” a hit in the 1980s for the synth pop band Naked Eyes.
Bacharach and David also wrote hits 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), and “Wives and Lovers” (Jack Jones).
Singer Smokey Robinson praised David’s musical legacy. “I hope that the music world will join together in celebrating the life of one of our greatest composers ever,” he said.
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.
David would recall working on a song that seemed to go nowhere. They stuck it in a desk drawer and left it there for months.
“This was particularly disappointing to me. I had thought of the idea at least two years before showing it to Burt,” David wrote in a brief essay on his Web site, . “I was stuck. I kept thinking of lines like, `Lord, we don’t need planes that fly higher or faster …’ and they all seemed wrong. Why, I didn’t know. But the idea stayed with me.http://www.haldavid.com
“Then, one day, I thought of, `Lord, we don’t need another mountain,’ and all at once I knew how the lyric should be written. Things like planes and trains and cars are man-made, and things like mountains and rivers and valleys are created by someone or something we call God. There was now a oneness of idea and language instead of a conflict. It had taken me two years to put my finger on it.”
And so they had another smash: “What the World Needs Now is Love”
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 sang as a duet; 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 worked as a copywriter at the New York Post, but music was his passion and he had written lyrics for Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo and other bandleaders before hooking up with Bacharach.
He married Anne Rauchman in 1947 and the couple had two sons.