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Winterhalter was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1931, where he played saxophone for the orchestra and sang in two of the choirs. He later studied violin and reed instruments at the New England Conservatory of Music. After graduating, he taught school for several years before turning professional during the mid-1930s, serving as a sideman and arranger for Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Raymond Scott, Claude Thornhill and others.
Winterhalter also arranged and conducted sessions for singers including Dinah Shore and Billy Eckstine, and in 1948 he was named musical director at MGM Records. After two years with the label, he joined Columbia Records, where he scored a pair of hits with his recordings of "Jealous Heart" and "Blue Christmas".
In 1950, Winterhalter moved to RCA Victor, where he arranged sessions for many of their popular artists including Perry Como, Harry Belafonte, Eddie Fisher, Jaye P. Morgan and the Ames Brothers; he also recorded several instrumental albums, among them 1952's Great Music Themes of Television, believed to be the first collection of TV theme songs ever recorded. Winterhalter also notched a series of chart hits, including "Mr. Touchdown, U.S.A.", "A Kiss to Build a Dream On", "Blue Tango", "Vanessa", "The Little Shoemaker", and "Song of The Barefoot Contessa". With pianist Eddie Heywood, he had a minor hit with "Land of Dreams" (1954) and reached the number one spot on Billboard with 1956's "Canadian Sunset." The record sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Winterhalter remained with RCA Victor until 1963, at which time he moved to Kapp; that same year, he also penned the main title theme for the film, Diamond Head. At Kapp he recorded a handful of albums including The Best of '64 and its follow-up, The Big Hits of 1965, before leaving the label to work on Broadway. He later worked in television as well, and continued recording the occasional LP for various budget labels. His last US chart single was "Theme From 'Popi'", released on Musicor in 1969. It reached #35 in the Billboard Easy Listening Top 40.
Winterhalter died from cancer, in Greenwich, Connecticut on September 17, 1973. He is buried alongside his wife at Rockland Cemetery in Sparkill, New York. Winterhalter had a son, Hugo Francis Winterhalter, who was killed in Vietnam on December 29, 1966. He was with the 169th Combat Engineer Battalion.