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[Deathwatch] Noel Regney, songwriter, 80

Special thanks to one of my favorite readers for providing this - Ed.

09:00 - 02 December 2002

Noel Regney, who helped write the beloved Christmas song Do You Hear
What I Hear? has died aged 80.

He wrote the seasonal standard with Gloria Shayne, then his wife, in
1962. It was recorded by Bing Crosby and Perry Como, among others, in
more than 120 versions, in musical styles ranging from jazz and New Age
to funk and reggae.

But Regney wrote it as a clear and plaintive plea for peace at the time
of the Cuban missile crisis, in October 1962. His favourite version was
Robert Goulet's. When Goulet came to the line "Pray for peace, people,
everywhere," he almost shouted the words.

"I am amazed that people can think they know the song - and not know it
is a prayer for peace," Regney said in an interview in 1985. "But we
are so bombarded by sound and our attention spans are so short that we
now listen only to catchy beginnings."

Regney was drafted into the Nazi army despite being a Frenchman. He
soon deserted and joined a group of French resistance fighters. While
still with the Germans, he once intentionally led his platoon toward a
group of French partisans and was shot.

He was born in Strasbourg, France, and studied at conservatories in
Strasbourg, Salzburg and Paris. War interrupted his education in
classical music.

After the war, he was musical director of the Indochinese Service of
Radio France from 1948 to 1950 and worked as director of the Lido
nightclub in Paris. In 1951, he left France to take a world tour as
musical director for the French singer Lucienne Boyer.

In 1952, he settled in Manhattan, working for early television shows as
an arranger, composer and conductor. He also wrote radio jingles.

One day he wandered into the dining room of a Manhattan hotel and saw a
beautiful woman playing popular music on the piano. He introduced
himself and in a month he was married to Ms Shayne.

The couple began writing songs, including Rain, Rain, Go Away, Sweet
Little Darlin', Goodbye, Cruel World and What's The Use Of Crying.

With Soeur Sourire, known as the Singing Nun, Regney wrote Dominique, a
hit song in 1963.

Do You Hear What I Hear? had its origin when Regney was asked to write
the flip side of a single that was expected to become a hit.

He wrote the lyrics, based on his vision of a newborn lamb. He handed
it to his wife and asked her to write the tune, the reverse of their
usual procedure. The finished version moved the two creators so much
that at first they could not sing it. "It broke us up," she once said.
Bing Crosby's version in 1963 sold more than a million copies.