Rest in Peace Hal Willner, Longtime Saturday Night Live ‘Sketch Music Guy’ and Acclaimed Music Producer

Rock Cellar Magazine StaffCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

The Twitter page belonging to Hal Willner, who for decades served a key role in the music department of Saturday Night Live, refers to Willner as “so-called Music Producer & Saturday Night Live sketch music guy since Raging Bull debuted,” and it was on that Twitter page that Willner posted this on March 28, indicating he was dealing with the coronavirus:

Today, April 7, it was reported via numerous sources that Willner, 64, has passed away. No cause of death was officially announced, though Rolling Stone quotes a source close to Willner as saying he was “suffering from symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.”

Willner chose the music used in skits since taking over the duty in 1980, and was caught up in a number of different projects over the years that helped earn him reverence from all corners.

NPR’s memorial on Hal Willner sums him up like this:

But he was perhaps best known as the curator of incredibly wide-ranging tribute projects, and for bringing vastly eclectic creative personalities together. As a 2017 New York Times profile put it, “If you see Mikhail Baryshnikov moving to the novelty song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” or Conway Twitty sharing a bill with the Kronos Quartet and the cult experimental band the Residents, chances are Mr. Willner was behind it.”

Willner is featured in this behind-the-scenes video about the music of SNL:

Various entertainers inside and outside the SNL realm shared their condolences on social media after word of his passing:

And outside the SNL realm, as well:

Outside his work on SNL, Willman produced albums for the likes of Lucinda Williams, Marianne Faithfull and more. He worked with Lou Reed and Jeff Buckley — with Rolling Stone noting that Willman was instrumental in helping Buckley hit it big on the mainstream level:

Willner also played a pivotal role in the career of Jeff Buckley, when he invited Buckley to a 1991 tribute concert in New York for Buckley’s father Tim — an event that introduced the younger Buckley to the New York music community and effectively launched his career.

The New York Times profiled Willner in a piece that’s making the rounds on social media quite heavily after news of his passing — as it portrays the irreverence and creativity that made him such a unique presence — as shared in the memorial tweet from SNL alum Taran Killam:

Rest in peace, Hal Willner.


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