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HALL WILLNER,
1956-2020

Hal Willner, a record producer who oversaw widely praised tribute albums and concerts while also producing music sketches for Saturday Night Live, died today of complications related to the coronavirus. He had turned 64 on Monday.

Less than two weeks ago, Willner had tweeted that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was in New York City.

Willner’s collection of tribute albums spanned film music, jazz musicians and Kurt Weill; he has a T. Rex tribute album slated for a July release. The sets include 1981’s Amarcord Nino Rota devoted to Federico Fellini’s composer; 1984’s That’s The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk; and his most popular work, 1988’s Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films with Michael Stipe, Harry Nilsson, Tom Waits, Sun Ra and others. He also produced Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill and Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus.

He staged tributes to Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music in London, Brooklyn and Los Angeles in 1999 and 2001 with acts such as Wilco, Elvis Costello, David Johansen and Steve Earle. A collection of recordings from the shows—the Royce Hall affair ran more than five hours—was released as The Harry Smith Project: Anthology of American Folk Music Revisited. Among his other staged tributes were multi-artist concerts dedicated to the music Leonard Cohen, Doc Pomus and Tim Buckley, and a pirate-themed concert titled Rogue’s Gallery.

Willner, a Philadelphia native, got his start working with producer Joel Dorn in the late 1970s on two of Leon Redbone’s albums; he was also an associate producer on the Dorn-produced Fiyo on the Bayou by the Neville Brothers. Over a 40-year career, he produced multiple albums by Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed’s Ecstasy, The Raven and his live version of Berlin, and collections of music from the classic cartoon composers Raymond Scott and Carl Stalling.

Willner’s association with SNL began in 1981 as sketch music producer, a role that stretched from Fear to the recent David Byrne/La Guardia Airport/Broadway production.

In film, his credits include producing the music for Robert Altman’s Kansas City and Short Cuts and Wim WendersThe Million Dollar Hotel, the score for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and music supervising Step Brothers and Talladega Nights.

 

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