Hal Willner  

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Hal Willner (April 6, 1956 – April 7, 2020) was an American music producer working in recording, films, TV and live events. He was best known for assembling tribute albums and events featuring a wide variety of artists and musical styles (jazz, classical, rock, Tin Pan Alley).


Early life

Willner was born in Philadelphia in 1956. His father and uncle were Holocaust survivors. Willner moved to New York City in 1974 to attend New York University, but did not graduate.

Music career

In the late 1970s Willner worked under record producer Joel Dorn, credited as associate producer on Leon Redbone's albums Double Time and Champagne Charlie, and The Neville Brothers' Fiyo on the Bayou. Willner became the sketch music producer of Saturday Night Live in 1980, where he chose the music to be used in sketches. From 1988 to 1990 he produced the TV program Sunday Night (later renamed Night Music), which was hosted by David Sanborn and presented musicians from a wide variety of genres.

Willner produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Lou Reed, Bill Frisell, Steven Bernstein, William S. Burroughs, Gavin Friday, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson and Allen Ginsberg, among others. He produced a live tribute concert to Tim Buckley, that ultimately launched the career of Tim's son Jeff. He released one album under his own name: Whoops, I'm an Indian, which featured audio samples from 78 rpm records from the early-mid 20th century.

Following earlier stagings, in January 2010 Willner produced his pirate-themed concert event Rogue's Gallery for the Sydney Festival. The multinational cast included Marianne Faithfull, Todd Rundgren, Tim Robbins, Gavin Friday, Peter Garrett, Baby Gramps, David Thomas, Sarah Blasko, Katy Steele, Peaches, Glenn Richards, Liam Finn, Camille O'Sullivan, Kami Thompson and Marry Waterson.


Willner died from complications of COVID-19 symptoms at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on April 7, 2020, one day after his 64th birthday.

Personal life

At the time of his death he was married to television producer Sheila Rogers, and they had one son.

Tribute albums

Live tribute events

  • Greetings From Tim Buckley (Brooklyn 1991)
  • Nevermore: Poems & Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (Brooklyn 1995), which led to the album Closed on Account of Rabies (1997), then Hal Willner's Halloween Show: Never Bet the Devil your Head (Los Angeles 2002), then Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems and Tales of Edgar Allen Poe (Los Angeles 2001)
  • Tribute to Allen Ginsberg (Los Angeles)
  • Marquis de Sade's writings (New York 1998)
  • The Harry Smith Project (London 1999, Los Angeles 2001)
  • The Doc Pomus Project (New York City 2001)
  • Came So Far For Beauty, An Evening of Songs by Leonard Cohen (Brooklyn 2003, Brighton 2004, Sydney 2005, Dublin 2006)
  • Dream Comfort Memory Despair: The Songs of Neil Young (Brooklyn 2004), followed by Hal Willner's Neil Young Project (Vancouver 2010 Olympics)
  • Perfect Partners: Nino Rota & Federico Fellini (London 2004)
  • Shock And Awe: The Songs of Randy Newman (Los Angeles 2004)
  • Forest of No Return: Hal Willner Presents Vintage Disney Songbook (London 2007), followed by Stay Awake: 20th anniversary of the classic recording of Disney songs (Brooklyn 2008) (Hal Willner's Stay Awake at UCLA was scheduled for October 30, 2008, but was cancelled due to unavailability of some performers)
  • Rogue's Gallery (NYC 2007, Dublin 2008, London 2008, Gateshead 2008, Sydney 2010)
  • Hal Willner's Bill Withers Project (Brooklyn 2008)
  • Begats: Readings of the work of Burroughs, DeSade & Poe (Brooklyn 2009)
  • Gotta Right to Sing the Blues? Music and Readings from A Fine Romance, Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (NYC 2010)

Spoken word recordings

With the increasing prevalence of tribute albums in the late 1980s (such as Red Hot + Blue), Willner decided to turn his attention to spoken word recordings.

Film related projects

A more complete list of Willner's contributions to films and television can be found at www.imdb.com (see external links).

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hal Willner" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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