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

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

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]


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Hal Willner" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (April 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Concept albums produced by Hal Willner

Themed concerts produced by Hal Willner

Spoken word recordings

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


  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.