As reported by Variety, record producer and longtime Saturday Night Live music producer Hal Willner has died from complications caused by the coronavirus. Willner had actually tweeted about having the virus recently, saying just over a week ago that he “always wanted to have a number one, but not this” along with an image showing New York City as the epicenter of the United States’ COVID-19 outbreak. He also tweeted well-wishes to legendary songwriter John Prine, who has been in critical condition with the coronavirus.
Beyond his work producing music for SNL sketches, which also opened the door for him to work with fellow SNL vet Will Ferrell in a handful of movies (including Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers), Willner is best known for organizing and producing a series of eclectic tribute albums that brought together diverse groups of artists to pay homage to, for example, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and Kurt Weill. His final albums include 2006's Rogues Gallery and 2013's Son Of Rogues Gallery, which had artists like Lou Reed, Sting, Rufus Wainwright, Iggy Pop, and Marianne Faithfull performing old sea shanties. Variety says he had also been working on a T. Rex tribute album “for years” that would’ve included “U2 and others,” but now it’s unclear what will happen with that.
Willner was also the music coordinator for Lorne Michaels’ Sunday Night/Night Music, the short-lived NBC musical showcase from the late-’80s that featured acts like Sonic Youth, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, The Residents, and Warren Zevon.