Hal Willner

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Hal Willner
Willner in 2007
Born(1956-04-06)April 6, 1956
DiedApril 7, 2020(2020-04-07) (aged 64)
OccupationMusic producer
Years active1970s–2020
SpouseSheila Rogers

Hal Willner (April 6, 1956 – April 7, 2020) was an American music producer working in recording, films, television, and live events.[1] 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). Willner died during the COVID-19 pandemic from complications brought on by the virus.

Early life[edit]

Willner was born in Philadelphia in 1956. His father and uncle were Holocaust survivors.[2] Willner moved to New York City in 1974 to attend New York University, but did not graduate.[2]


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,[3] 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 for four decades.[2] 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, Richard Strange, Gavin Friday, Anohni, Peter Garrett, Baby Gramps, David Thomas, Sarah Blasko, Katy Steele, Peaches, Glenn Richards, Liam Finn, Camille O'Sullivan, Kami Thompson, and Marry Waterson.[4]

Personal life[edit]

At the time of his death he was married to television producer Sheila Rogers, and they had one son Arlo.[2]


Willner had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. He died at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on April 7, 2020, one day after his 64th birthday during the pandemic in New York City.[2][5] A tribute to Willner was played during the April 11, 2020 episode of Saturday Night Live, featuring both the reminiscences of current and past cast members and a choral rendition of Lou Reed's song "Perfect Day".[6]


Concept albums produced by Hal Willner[edit]

Themed concerts produced by Hal Willner[edit]

  • Greetings from Tim Buckley (Brooklyn 1991)[9]
  • Nevermore: Poems & Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (Brooklyn 1995),[10] 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 Allan Poe (Los Angeles 2001)[11]
  • 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)[12][13][14]
  • Dream Comfort Memory Despair: The Songs of Neil Young (Brooklyn 2004), followed by Hal Willner's Neil Young Project (Vancouver 2010)[15]
  • Perfect Partners: Nino Rota & Federico Fellini (London 2004)
  • Shock and Awe: The Songs of Randy Newman (Los Angeles 2004)
  • Let's Eat: Feasting on The Firesign Theatre (Los Angeles 2004)[16][17]
  • 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)[18] (Hal Willner's Stay Awake at UCLA was scheduled for October 30, 2008, but was cancelled due to unavailability of some performers)[19]
  • 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)[20]
  • Gotta Right to Sing the Blues? Music and Readings from A Fine Romance, Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (NYC 2010)[11]
  • An Evening with Gavin Friday and Friends (New York, Carnegie Hall, 2009) [21]
  • Hal Willner's Freedom Riders Project (Brooklyn 2011)[22]
  • Shelebration: The Works of Shel Silverstein (New York 2011)[23]
  • Hal Willner’s Amarcord Nino Rota (London, The Barbican, 2013; New York, Lincoln Center, 2018)[24]
  • The Bells: A Day Long Celebration of Lou Reed (New York, July 30, 2016)[25]
  • 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time: Songs from Bob Dylan's 1963 Town Hall Concert' (New York Town Hall Thursday, May 24, 2018)[26]

Spoken word recordings[edit]

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[edit]


  1. ^ John Leland (September 8, 2017). "Hal Willner's Vanishing, Weird New York". New York Times. Archived from the original on September 12, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Leland, John (April 8, 2020). "Hal Willner, Music Producer Who Melded Styles, Dies at 64". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 12, 2020. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  3. ^ Hal Willner. "Hal Willner - Credits". AllMusic. Archived from the original on January 10, 2016. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  4. ^ "Sydney Festival 2010 - Rogue's Gallery". Archived from the original on January 12, 2011. Retrieved October 3, 2010.
  5. ^ Willman, Chris (April 7, 2020). "Hal Willner, Music Producer and 'SNL' Veteran, Dies of Coronavirus at 64". Variety. Archived from the original on April 7, 2020. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  6. ^ Jem Aswad, "‘Saturday Night Live’ Pays Loving Tribute to Longtime Sketch Music Maestro Hal Willner" Archived April 13, 2020, at the Wayback Machine. Variety, April 11, 2020.
  7. ^ "Hal Wilner". Issue Project Room at the Old American Can Factory. March 2009. Archived from the original on January 17, 2010.
  8. ^ "Nino Rota: Godfather of Italian music". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on November 11, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2010.
  9. ^ [1] Archived December 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Hal Willner". Evolution Music Partners. Archived from the original on February 11, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "WILLNER PROJECTS - THE OFFICE performing arts + film". Theofficearts.com. Archived from the original on February 13, 2013. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  12. ^ ""Came so far for Beauty" – An Evening of Songs by Leonard Cohen Under the Stars, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, June 28, 2003. Report by Dick Straub". Leonardcohenfiles.com. June 28, 2003. Archived from the original on October 22, 2012. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  13. ^ "Came So Far For Beauty". The Age. Melbourne. January 31, 2005. Archived from the original on August 5, 2011. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  14. ^ ""Came so far for Beauty" in Dublin". Leonardcohenfiles.com. Archived from the original on July 29, 2018. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  15. ^ "Hal Willner's taking risks with his Neil Young Project". www.straight.com. February 10, 2010. Archived from the original on October 23, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  16. ^ Mirkin, Steven (April 4, 2004). "Let's Eat! Feasting on the Firesign Theater". Variety. Archived from the original on April 11, 2020. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  17. ^ "Audio Plays of the Legendary Firesign Theatre Performed by All-Star Cast Led by UCLA Live Artist in Residence Hal Willner April 1" (Press release). UCLA Newsroom. January 13, 2004. Archived from the original on September 23, 2014.
  18. ^ Pompeo, Joe (March 14, 2008). "Stay Awake Stays Alive in Brooklyn". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on July 26, 2008.
  19. ^ Lewis, Randy (October 22, 2008). "UCLA cancels Hal Willner Stay Awake concert". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 13, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  20. ^ [2] Archived August 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Hal Willner presents: An Evening with Gavin Friday and Friends – Gavin Friday – Official Site". Gavinfriday.com. September 11, 2009. Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  22. ^ "6/16/2011 - Hal Willner's Freedom Riders Project :: Calendar :: BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn". Bricartsmedia.org. June 16, 2011. Archived from the original on September 11, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2012.
  23. ^ Pareles, Jon (August 7, 2011). "'Shelebration!,' Silverstein Tribute at SummerStage - Review". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  24. ^ Review: Hal Willner: Nino Rota Amarcord (LJF)[permanent dead link] 26 November 2013 Londonjazznews.com
  25. ^ Kory Grow (May 17, 2016). "Lou Reed's 'Last Project,' a Box Set of Remastered CDs, Due This Fall". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  26. ^ Mitch Myers (May 25, 2018). "Bill Murray, Gina Gershon, Steve Buscemi Celebrate Bob Dylan at Birthday Tribute". Variety. Retrieved May 14, 2020.

External links[edit]