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Hal Shaper

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My father Hal Shaper enjoyed a long and successful career as a songwriter and a music publisher, achieving international prominence with both.

In London in the mid-fifties, he started writing for the big ballad singers of the day. His first major hit came in 1962 with Softly, As I Leave You his English lyric for an Italian melody, recorded by Matt Monro and subsequently recorded by Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Shirley Bassey, Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and many more. It became a huge international hit and a modern classic.

Hal was born in Muizenberg, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa on July 18, 1931, the youngest of three children in a Jewish immigrant family. He studied law and, after qualifying as a lawyer, he left Cape Town in 1955 to follow his dream and make his fortune in the music business in London. Things were not easy at first and, after cashing in his return boat ticket and working as a dishwasher at the Troubadour Restaurant in Earl’s Court, he landed his first job in the business – working as a song-plugger for music publisher Dave Toff. Later he moved to Robbins Music, where he spent seven years working for Alan Holmes and Joy Connock – a marvellous team, he always said, who gave him much encouragement and opened up so many writing opportunities for him.

After the success of Softly, As I Leave You, Hal felt financially secure enough to set up his own music publishing business. So, in 1964, at the time of big changes in the pop music world, he started Sparta Music which flowered with the swinging sixties. Signings included The Moody Blues, Chad and Jeremy, Ian Whitcomb, David Bowie – in the early days – and a reggae catalogue, which included hits such as The Tide is High, a No 1 for Blondie.

As a writer he continued with what he did best, lyrics. Often romantic, sometimes funny and always well crafted, these songs were recorded by famous artists that included Barbra Streisand (Martina), Petula Clark (My Friend the Sea), Jack Jones (The Years of My Youth), Val Doonican (The Mysterious People), Bing Crosby (At the Time of Life) and Julie Andrews and Kermit the Frog(When You Were a Tadpole).

At least 60 of his hundreds of recorded works have been for films, Hal worked with composers such asMichel Legrand, Francis Lai, Stanley Myers, Nino Rota, Ron Goodwin and Ron Grainer.

For the theatre Hal wrote a number of musicals. Notably he co-wrote with composer Cyril Ornadel two award winning shows, Treasure Island, which ran for two seasons at the Mermaid Theatre, and the musical adaptation of Great Eexpectations, starring John Mills, Moira Lister and Lesley Ann Down.

After moving back to South Africa, with his young family in the nineties he created La Boheme Noir – a stage musical adaptation of La Boheme, set in modern day Soweto. He also spent significant time researching the history of the Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – the new South Africa’s national anthem – and helped identify the long lost composer Enoch Sontonga who was subsequently appropriately honoured.

A three time Ivor Novello Award winner, his career spanned five decades. He remained passionate about his profession to the end, always interested to hear the latest news from Broadway and the West End. He collected art and books and built up a very impressive collection of song-writing memorabilia of the 20th century.

He died peacefully on January 8, at his home in Cape Town. He married twice, first to Susan in 1972, they had one daughter, myself Hollie. He married Pippa in 1990 and they had four children Jack, Pia and Harry – their daughter Lucy died four years ago.

Hollie Shaper

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