Remembering Norman Gimbel

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was saddened to learn of the recent death of 1984 inductee Norman Gimbel. The Oscar and Grammy-winning composer, whose lyrics graced hit songs such as Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” died at the age of 91 on December 19.

Born in Brooklyn, Nov. 16, 1927, Gimbel began by working for music publishers David Blum and Edwin H. Morris, writing the words to Teresa Brewer’s hit “Ricochet Romance” and Andy Williams’ 1956 chart-topper, "Canadian Sunset," (with music by Eddie Heywood).

Frank Loesser later signed him to his music company, became his mentor and for three years the two worked closely. Through Loesser, Gimbel collaborated with Broadway composer Morris “Moose” Charlap on the musicals “Whoop-Up” in 1958 and “The Conquering Hero,” with a book by Larry Gelbart, in 1961.

In 1963, Gimbel was introduced by Publisher Lou Levy to a group of Brazilian composers, including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, Carlos Lyra and Baden Powell. He would go on to write English lyrics for many of their songs. Most notably he wrote the English words for "So Nice" (Summer Samba), "Meditation," "How Insensitive," and "The Song of The Sabia." His English lyrics for “The Girl from Ipanema,” made the Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz standard an international sensation and one of the most covered songs of all time, winning the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. He would also write English lyrics for Michel Legrand's music for the 1964 film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; "Watch What Happens" and "I Will Wait For You" ( which was nominated for an Academy Award, original French lyrics by Jacques Demy).

In the fall of 1967, he moved to Hollywood where he became very active in film and television. Among the composers he worked with were Lalo Shifrin, Elmer Bernstein, Bill Conti, Maurice Jarre, Peter Matz, Pat Williams, Michel Colombier, Fred Karlin, Jack Elliot, Quincy Jones, Burt Bachrach, Jean Thielamns, Eddy Marnay, Gilbert Becaud and his daughter Nelly Gimbel.

With his longtime writing collaborator Charles Fox, Gimbel’s lyrics to Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” earned them the Song of the Year Grammy in 1973. The chart-topper was covered years later by the Fugees in a hip-hop version. In their 30-year partnership, Gimbel and Fox wrote more than 150 songs together, earning Oscar nominations for Olivia Newton-John’s “Richard’s Window” (from 1975’s The Other Side of the Mountain) and Barry Manilow’s “Ready to Take a Chance Again” (from 1978’s comedy Foul Play).

Gimbel and Fox also wrote the themes for such TV shows as "Happy Days," "Lavern and Shirley," "Angie," "Paper Chase, "Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous" and "Wonder Woman." His movie song-scores include "The Phantom Tollbooth," "A Troll In Central Park," "Arabian Night," "Lady And The Tramp II," and "Where's Poppa?"

In 1979 Gimbel won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "It Goes Like It Goes" from the film Norma Rae (music by David Shire). His songs have appeared in over seventy motion pictures.

Gimbel is survived by his sons Tony and Peter and daughters Nelly and Hannah.