This is really tragic, and huge, news.
Famed “Saturday Night Live” music director and beloved music producer Hal Willner has died from coronavirus at age 64, a day after his birthday. I’ll tell you, there’s barely anyone more popular or well known in the behind the scenes of the musicworld than Hal Willner. People are sobbing on the phone.
Hal was particularly close to Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, as well as Jenni Muldaur and everyone in the New York music scene. He’d been particularly upset about Marianne Faithfull in the last few days.
Steve Leeds of Sirius radio just tweeted: “Hall Wilner defined creativity R.I.P.” You can read a profile of Hal here.
Hal had been the man behind the music skits at “SNL” beginning in 1980, and went on to work with Lorne Michaels in many capacities. He was revered in the New York music world. He produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed (including his final major studio release, “Ecstasy”), Macy Gray, and Lucinda Williams. He produced Elvis Costello’s “Juliet Letters” with the Brodsky Quartet.
Hal also produced a lot of recordings of the Beat poets, bringing them back to life. He worked with William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, which is amazing.
Willner posted to Twitter on March 28th that he was in bed, and sick. The Tweet is below. He died at home at 5am this morning.
Just a day earlier he’d posted about John Prine: “Sending love to John Prine who is in critical condition with COVID-19.. John is a music giant. His songs are as good as it gets and he’s a spellbinding performer. Send good thoughts his way. “I sound like that old guy down the street that doesn’t chase you out of his apple tree.”
I always wanted to have a number one – but not this . Pure Arch Oboler with Serling added . In bed on upper west side . H pic.twitter.com/zEqZmqmlWk
— Hal Willner (@WillnerHal) March 28, 2020
One of my favorite Hall Willner projects was “Stay Awake,” for which he recorded a bunch of stars doing Disney songs. Here’s the link.
Among Hal’s other credits is Marianne Faithfull’s seminal album, Broken English.
Condolences to Hal’s wife, Sheila Rogers, the long time music booker for David Letterman, and then James Corden, and their son. Hal also leaves his father, a Holocaust survivor.
Sean Lennon wrote: “Hal Willner R.I.P. All I can say is thanks for everything. Will miss you friend.”
Jenni Muldaur writes on Instagram:
Hal is everything to me. This covid19 virus just claimed the life of a true one of a kind. I met him when I was 19 in San Francisco at the wake of Jane Dornacker. Together we lost a dozen friends. So many that I arrogantly thought Hal and I would be the last ones standing. I am utterly in disbelief. This is a picture of him in Estonia when we were on the Lou tour. We’ve been everywhere together. One week ago he was on my Zoom birthday. One of my best friends in this whole wide world. Inconsolable. He was worried about Marianne and now this. The saddest day. Not Hal. Fuck.
Bebe Buell wrote:
There are no words… Hal Wilner @willnerh was one of the most noble and kind people I’ve ever known in my life. Wildly talented, he possessed ears of gold to match his heart of gold. My deepest condolences goes out to all those who loved him- all of us who knew him adored him. He was so worried about @mariannefaithfullofficial and now this evil virus has taken him. I’m thinking about my sweet friend @jennimuldaur right now- I’m sending you hugs and love, angel.
Bye for now you beautiful human. 💔🙏#halwilner #bebebuell