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Obituary: Luigi Creatore, songwriter


Wonderful world: Luigi Creatore Photo: The LIFE Images Collection

Wonderful world: Luigi Creatore Photo: The LIFE Images Collection

The LIFE Images Collection

Wonderful world: Luigi Creatore Photo: The LIFE Images Collection

Luigi Creatore, who died on Sunday aged 93, was a highly successful American producer and songwriter whose hits included Wonderful World for Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling in Love, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Creatore had a long professional partnership with his cousin, Hugo Peretti, originally a trumpet player, which began in the 1940s at his brother's wedding. There, Peretti's wife, a children's author, asked Creatore to help her with some stories. This led to a children's record made by the two men which so impressed the label's owner that he asked them to produce LPs.

Based in the Brill Building, in New York's Tin Pan Alley, Hugo & Luigi (as they were credited) first worked at creating pop hits for jazz singers. For Sarah Vaughan, they produced Whatever Lola Wants and for the big-band singer Georgia Gibbs, the million-selling Dance With Me Henry. Having bought a share in 1957 of Roulette Records, they made an American star of Jimmie Rodgers with two top-three songs, Honeycomb and Kisses Sweeter than Wine.

They became key figures in the industry, however, with their move to RCA Victor in 1959. Hugo & Luigi negotiated a contract reputed to be the first to give producers credit on album sleeves, and royalties as well as a salary. They were initially teamed with Perry Como, whose easy- going musicality became their signature sound.

In the early 1960s, they also began to craft a string of R&B hits for smooth-voiced soul singers such as the Isley Brothers. The pair then revitalised the career of Sam Cooke, which had been languishing for some years, with successes including Chain Gang and Twistin' the Night Away - his two biggest hits after his breakthrough with Send Me.

They also produced Wonderful World, destined to become the track most associated with Cooke following his early death. In 1986, it would reach No 2 in Britain after being used in a jeans commercial. Another proof of the longevity of their work was the gloriously uplifting Can't Help Falling in Love, which they wrote for Presley's film Blue Hawaii in 1961 with their frequent collaborator George Weiss. The song topped the UK charts in 1962, and in 1993 when covered by UB40; Elvis would close his 1970s live shows with it.

The team also wrote Wild in the Country for another of the singer's films, also in 1961, and that same year created perhaps their most familiar song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh). Weiss wrote English lyrics - "In the jungle, the mighty jungle…" - to what was thought to be a traditional chant. Produced by Hugo & Luigi and sung by The Tokens, it raced to No 1 in the US.

Three decades later, it featured in Disney's hit animated film The Lion King, but some years later it emerged that it was based on a Zulu tune adapted in the 1930s by a South African musician, Solomon Linda. He had never been credited and his heirs reached a settlement with the various parties concerned.

Luigi Federico Creatore was born in New York on December 21, 1921. His father, originally from Naples, became a well-known American band leader. Luigi served in the US Navy in the war, and became a writer of novels and advertising jingles.

In 1964, he and Peretti left RCA to write a Broadway musical about the American Civil War, but this flopped. They returned to the charts in the 1970s with Van McCoy's The Hustle and hits for The Stylistics and won a Grammy in 1977 as producers of the album Bubbling Brown Sugar.

Peretti died in 1986, and latterly Creatore had taken up writing plays, including one about the relationship between Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and his actor brother.

He married, as his third wife, Weiss's widow Claire. She survives him with a son of his first marriage.