George David Weiss: Songwriter who worked with Elvis Presley and wrote ‘What A Wonderful World’

Following his Las Vegas comeback in 1969, Elvis Presley made hundreds of concert appearances during the last eight years of his life. He had a wide repertoire but every concert ended the same way. With every ounce of energy and often with his cape outstretched, he would belt out "Can't Help Falling In Love", written by George David Weiss with the production team, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore (known as Hugo and Luigi).

George David Weiss was born into a Jewish family in Manhattan in 1921. His mother wanted him to be a lawyer, but he set his mind on becoming a musician, attending the Juilliard School of Music and becoming proficient on woodwind and viola. During the war, he served as a military bandleader.

Weiss became a songwriter in the Brill Building, at first working with Bennie Benjamin. They had success with "Surrender" (1946), recorded by Perry Como and Woody Herman, and "Confess" (1948), recorded by Doris Day, Patti Page and Tony Martin. One of their compositions, "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore", initially for Perry Como, was a US country hit for Charlie Rich in 1974.

In 1952, Weiss added words to George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland", which was then recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé and Sarah Vaughan. The lyric is credited to BY Forster, a ruse which enabled Weiss to be affiliated to both American songwriting organisations, ASCAP and BMI.

Weiss wrote two early 1950s successes for Kay Starr, "I'll Never Be Free" and "Wheel Of Fortune", but he sethis sights on Broadway, contributing to Mr Wonderful (1956), where Sammy Davis Jr introduced his song, "TooClose For Comfort". Peggy Lee won a gold disc for her recording of the title song. Although Weiss was involved with three other Broadway musicals,his commercial success lay in individual compositions.

In 1961, he wrote an English lyric, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for an African chant, "Wimoweh" and it became a multi-million selling single for the Tokens. Weiss probably didn't think he was doing anything controversial, but the original tune had been written by Solomon Linda in 1939 who had received nothing for his work. The song was a UK No 1 for Tight Fit in 1982 and was used in the Disney stage-show of The Lion King. During a TV documentary in the 1990s, Weiss was elusive on this matter, which was not resolved until 2004 with annual payments to Linda's two daughters.

Many Brill Building writers were asked to submit songs for Elvis Presley's films. With Hugo and Luigi, Weiss had success with the title song for Wild in the Country (1961). Weiss was intrigued by the music box that Presley gave to an old lady in Blue Hawaii. Taking the folk song, "Plasir d'Amour" as the starting point, they wrote the delightfully low-key "Can't Help Falling In Love".

Although a highlight of the film, it was released as the B-side to the much inferior "Rock-A-Hula Baby". Early in 1962, both sides were listed when it topped the charts. Presley upped the tempo when he performed the song in concert and it was a hit again for Andy Williams (1970) and the Stylistics (1976).

The Stylistics were produced by Hugo and Luigi, and Weiss was a co-writer on many of their hit records including "Let's Put It All Together" (1974), "Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)" (1975) and "Na-Na Is The Saddest Word" (1975).

Weiss wrote "Apron Strings" (Cliff Richard, 1959), "Hey Little Lucy" (Conway Twitty, 1959) and "A Walkin' Miracle" (The Essex, 1963). In 1968, Louis Armstrong had an international hit with his gooey but well-intentioned "What a Wonderful World", which was also featured to stunning effect in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). By way of contrast, he wrote the intense soul ballad "Stay With Me Baby" with Jerry Ragovoy. It was first recorded by Lorraine Ellison in 1966 and was successful for the Walker Brothers, David Essex, Ruby Turner and, last year, Duffy.

As president of the Songwriters Guild of America, Weiss testified to Congress on copyright law. It was ironic in view of his ongoing problems with "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", but it was also fulfilling what his mother wanted for him.

George David Weiss, songwriter: born New York City 9 April 1921; married three times (three sons, one daughter); died Oldwich, New Jersey 23 August 2010.

Suggested Topics
News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

£110 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently seeking a ...

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor