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George Weiss

George David Weiss

Composer, Lyricist, Arranger, Actor

(1921 - )

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George Weiss was a prolific songwriter whose work turned up on Broadway, in movies, on jazz and (more often) pop charts. Mr. Wonderful (1956), written with Jerry Bock and Larry Holofcener and starring Sammy Davis, Jr., enjoyed a run of almost a year on Broadway and produced the hit “Too Close for Comfort.” His collaboration with George Shearing in 1952 resulted in the jazz standard “Lullaby of Birdland.” Since 1947 Weiss’ songs have been used in 30 films, and he scored four films from 1960 to 1966, including Murder, Inc. in which Sarah Vaughan appears as a nightclub singer.

Weiss yearned to be either a lawyer or an accountant but instead enjoyed an extraordinary career in music. After leaving Juilliard he worked as a big band arranger for Stan Kenton and Johnny Richards. He wrote four hits in the ‘40s with Bennie Benjamin, and four of their songs made the pop charts in the 1950s: Kay Starr’s “I’ll Never Be Free” and “Wheel of Fortune,” Nat King Cole’s “Jet,” and Patti Page’s “Cross Over the Bridge.” With Joe Sherman, Weiss wrote “That Sunday, That Summer,” which Cole took to the charts in 1963. “What a Wonderful World,” written with Bob Thiele, was popularized by Louis Armstrong in 1967.

There’s an interesting story behind Weiss’ involvement with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a song known worldwide. Its originator was South African Solomon Linda who recorded it in 1939 as “Mbube” (which means “lion”). Musicologist Alan Lomax discovered the song and showed it to folk singer Pete Seeger of the Weavers, who recorded it in 1952 as “Wimoweh,” Seeger’s phonetic translation of the tune’s Zulu refrain. When a young doo-wop group, The Tokens, wanted to record it in 1961, the RCA production team of Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore decided that the song needed English lyrics and called in Weiss. The song again hit the charts. During the song’s transformations the original composer’s name was lost and he died penniless. Compositional credit has gone to Peretti and Creatore or to Paul Campbell, a pseudonym for the Weavers, resulting in law suits (which also named Weiss, at that time president of the Songwriters Guild of America) that continued into the early 1990s. Disney used the tune in the The Lion King in 1994, earning more millions for the song. Yet for all the money made on Linda’s original composition, his heirs have received a pittance.

- Sandra Burlingame

Lullabies of Birdland: A Musical Autobiography

George Shearing

Lullaby of Birdland

Chris Connor

Kay Starr - Greatest Hits

Kay Starr

What a Wonderful World

Louis Armstrong

The Weavers - Greatest Hits

The Weavers
Reading and Viewing

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Stuart Whitman, May Britt, Henry Morgan, Peter Falk, David J. Stewart

Murder, Inc.

20th Century Fox


Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick

The Lion King (Disney Special Platinum Edition)

Walt Disney Video


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