Sonny Burke

Sonny Burke
Los Angeles Times

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Sonny Burke
Music: South side of the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Bandleader | Composer | Conductor | Musician | Producer | Songwriter
Born Joseph Francis Burke on March 22, 1914 in Scranton, PA
Died May 31, 1980 of cancer in Los Angeles, CA

Joseph Francis "Sonny" Burke was a well respected musician, composer, conductor, songwriter and producer.

Born in Scranton, Pa., Burke studied violin and piano from age 5. An All-State fullback during his high school days, he continued his music studies at Duke University in North Carolina, where he led a student band.

After freelancing as an arranger for the bands of Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Joe Venuti and Xavier Cugat, Burke moved to New York in 1938. During 1939 and 1940 he toured with a big, swinging orchestra of his own.

In the 1940s he wrote for Charlie Spivak, Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa and conducted on recordings by Billy Eckstine, Dinah Shore and Mel Torme.

Moving to Hollywood, he began to work steadily as a composer, arranger, producer and/or musical director for Warner Bros., Reprise, Decca and MCA Records, and on various motion picture and television assignments. In 1950, he had a hit record of his own, "Mambo Jambo."

As a songwriter, Burke composed two standards that are still widely performed, "Midnight Sun" with Lionel Hampton and "Black Coffee" with Paul Francis Webster.

In 1980, Burke died of cancer, an illness that befell him while he was enjoying one of the greatest successes of his career — the bestselling Frank Sinatra album, "Trilogy." Burke conceived the idea for the three-record set and devoted well over a year to supervising its production.

Reflecting on the finished product, he said in an interview: "Sometimes as I play this record back ... it's as if Frank were talking to me, instead of singing words someone else wrote for him."

Burke had been associated with Sinatra in the creation of more than a dozen albums over 20 years, most notably "A Man and His Music," "September of My Years" and the singer's collaborations with the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras.

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