Variety reports that music producer Hal Willner has passed away from complications related to the COVID-19 coronavirus. The 64 year old was best known for producing tribute albums, spoken word recordings, and serving as the sketch music producer of Saturday Night Live since 1981 (even working on the most recent episode of the series prior to its hiatus). Among Willner's many tribute albums released over the years was "Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films" which feature performances from Michael Stipe, Ringo Starr, Tom Waits, and Sinéad O'Connor.
“It’s not any kind of radical thinking,” Willner previously told The New York Times about his ecclectic ensembles he assembled on the tribute albums. “That’s what we had growing up. Bill Graham would have Led Zeppelin preceded by the Bonzo Dog Band and Rahsaan Roland Kirk on the same show. How many people saw Patti LaBelle opening for Richard Pryor? So it’s just continuing a philosophy from that point of view. But people don’t do that anymore.”
Willner also produced live tribute events with readings of the poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the music of Randy Newman, the works of Shel Silverstein, and even the late Bill Withers, who died just four days ago (unrelated to the coronavirus). He also produced some albums by the late Lou Reed.
Willner also worked on the film side of things, producing the original score for Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York and working as a music consultant on several Will Ferrell projects including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Bewitched, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers.
"Lost more than a close friend today. Hal Willner was such a legendary music industry giant," Adam Dorn aka music producer Mocean Worker wrote on Twitter about Willner's death. "True artist. True visionary. No bullshit. No half steppin. Pure soul and art. I’ve known Hal since I was 4-5 years old. Was my fathers student and one of MY mentors. Love you Hal. RIP."
Former "Weekend Update" host on Saturday Night Live Seth Meyers reacted to Willner's passing on Twitter, saying: "As unique a person I ever had the fortune to cross paths with."
Comedian John Mulany, and former SNL writer with a penchant for musical numbers, tweeted: "Hal I love you. I liked you in my life so much. When I got horrible reviews you sent me a full email of Lou Reed quotes on how to view critics. It meant so much to me. You changed my way of thinking on how to make stuff. You made what you wanted w/ the people you loved. Bye Hal....P.S. You loved life completely and lived it intensely and I know you would find it funny that it took a global pandemic to take you away. I am going to miss you a lot."
(Cover photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)