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)
OccupationAmerican composer, musical arranger, Big Band leader, and producer

Joseph Francis "Sonny" Burke (March 22, 1914 – May 31, 1980) was an American musical arranger, composer, Big Band leader and producer. In 1937, he graduated from Duke University, where he had formed and led the jazz big band known as the Duke Ambassadors.


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. 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).[1]

He wrote the music for number of popular songs that continue to be regarded as standards. These include, "Black Coffee", with lyric by Paul Francis Webster, and "Midnight Sun", co-written with jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. The song's famous lyrics were added later by Johnny Mercer. 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 television 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, and was producer of Sinatra's iconic recording of "My Way" and Petula Clark’s classic “This Is My Song” written by Charles Chaplin for his movie A Countess From Hong Kong. He was also 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.

Death and interment[edit]

Burke died at the age of 66 from cancer on May 31, 1980, in Santa Monica, California. 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)

As sideman[edit]

With Brass Fever

With Dizzy Gillespie

With John Handy

With Blue Mitchell

As arranger[edit]

With Ben Sidran


  1. ^ Cotter, Bill, The Wonderful World of Disney Television: A Complete History, p. 549, Hyperion, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-6359-5

External links[edit]