Sonny Burke

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Sonny Burke
Joseph Francis Burke

(1914-03-22)March 22, 1914
DiedMay 31, 1980(1980-05-31) (aged 66)
Occupation(s)American composer, musical arranger, big band leader, and producer

Joseph Francis "Sonny" Burke (March 22, 1914 – May 31, 1980)[1] was an American musical arranger, composer, Big Band leader and producer.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Francis P. Burke and Rhoda Nihany,[2][3] Burke grew up in Detroit, Michigan and attended St. Ambrose High School, where he was All-State fullback. After one year at the University of Detroit, playing under coach Gus Dorais, Burke transferred to Duke University, where he formed and led the jazz big band known as the Duke Ambassadors.[4] During the 1930s and 1940s, Burke was a big band arranger in New York City, worked with Sam Donahue's band, and during the 1940s and 1950s worked as an arranger for the Charlie Spivak and Jimmy Dorsey bands, among others.[1] In 1955, he wrote, along with Peggy Lee, the songs to Disney's Lady and the Tramp. He also wrote songs with John Elliot for Disney's Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, which won the 1953 Oscar for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).[5]

He wrote the music for number of popular songs, including "Black Coffee" and "Midnight Sun", co-written with jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.[1] The song's lyrics were added later by Johnny Mercer.[1] Burke was an active arranger, conductor and A&R man at major Hollywood record labels, especially Decca Records where he worked with Charles "Bud" Dant. He also wrote and arranged the theme for the early 1960s show Hennesey, a jazzy update of The Sailor's Hornpipe.

Later Burke became musical director of Warner Bros. Records / Reprise Records and was responsible for many of Frank Sinatra's albums,[1] and was producer of Sinatra's recording of "My Way" and Petula Clark's "This Is My Song" written by Charles Chaplin for his movie, A Countess From Hong Kong. He was also the bandleader for recordings of leading singers such as Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, The Mills Brothers, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé and Billy Eckstine.[1]

Death and interment[edit]

Burke died from cancer on May 31, 1980, in Santa Monica, California, aged 66.[1] He was survived by his wife Dorothy Gillis Burke and his four children, Gaylord, Peter and twins Jerry and Tom Burke. He had one sister, Rhoda Burke Andrews, mother of Punch Andrews, Bob Seger's longtime manager. His interment was at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.


As leader[edit]

  • Sonny Burke plays Mambos (1951)
  • Sonny Burke and his Orchestra I & II (1951)
  • The Sonny Burke-Don Elliott Six (ca. 1960)[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 368. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ "Los Angeles Bells for Local Romance: Frank P. Burke, Former Local Broker Here, and Miss Rhoda Nihany Are Wed; The Will Live in West". The Scranton Tribune. June 5, 1912. p. 3. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  3. ^ "New York State Census, 1905," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 8 March 2021), Rhoda Nihany in household of Nihany, Brooklyn, A.D. 03, E.D. 04, Kings, New York; citing p. 5, line 45, various county clerk offices, New York; FHL microfilm 1,930,247.
  4. ^ Ross, Jerry (February 23, 1947). "Detroit's Sonny Burke Makes Arranging Pay". Detroit Free Press. p. 8. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  5. ^ Cotter, Bill, The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History, p. 549, Hyperion, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-6359-5

Further reading[edit]

  • Lowry, Raymond (January 2, 1960). "Goings On". The News and Observer. p. 6.

External links[edit]