The creatively voracious music producer Hal Willner, who for decades selected the music used in "Saturday Night Live" sketches, died Tuesday, one day after his 64th birthday. He had symptoms consistent with those caused by COVID-19. Along with his work at "SNL" — where he began in 1980 — Willner was a multifaceted presence in the music community, earning fans and drawing critical praise for his work as a live event and record producer.
A message he posted on Twitter on March 28 suggested that he was suffering from COVID-19. "I always wanted to have a number one - but not this," he wrote alongside a map that shows New York as the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S., adding: "In bed on upper west side."
Born in Philadelphia in 1956, Willner moved to New York in 1974 to work under record producer Joel Dorn. In 1980, he would release Amarcord Nino Rota, a tribute album to Italian compose Nino Rota that featured playing from Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Bill Frisell, Steve Lacy, Ron Carter and more.
Willner had been the sketch music producer for Saturday Night Live since 1981. His name also appears in production credits for albums by Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, Bill Frisell, Lucinda Williams, Allen Ginsberg and more.
Most recently, Willner had been attached to a T. Rex Tribute album featuring contributions from the likes of U2, Foo Fighters, Elton John, Joan Jett, Nick Cave, Perry Farrell, Soft Cell, Kesha and Børns.