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He Writes the Songs


“Becoming a professional lyricist is always a long shot,” says David Zippel C’76. It’s clear that this award-winning songwriter, whose 27-year music career will be celebrated in a Philadelphia revue later this month, has beaten the odds.

Zippel, the recipient of a Tony Award for his 1989 Broadway debut, City of Angels, as well as two Academy Award nominations, two Grammy nominations, and three Golden Globe nominations, admits that it is “thrilling to be recognized by your peers.”

It’s Better With a Band, playing at the Prince Music Theater September 18-29, features an array of songs Zippel has written for Broadway shows, Hollywood films, and pop-music artists, as well as new material. (Earlier versions of the show played Off Broadway in 1983 and in London’s West End in 1986.) “Prior productions were done with four performers and a piano,” says Zippel. “For the Prince we have completely reinvented the show. Now there is a five-piece band, and about 60 percent of the songs are new.”

According to Zippel, writing for different genres requires versatility. “For a theatrical show, we outline the story and decide which moments are musical,” he explains. “In writing lyrics for a character, you’re telling the story.” With pop music, his goal in creating songs that have been recorded by artists from Christina Aguilera, to Ricky Martin, to Stevie Wonder is “to capture an emotional moment, to create an emotional picture. It’s a great moment to hear a vocalist sing your song for the first time,” he adds.

Having worked on the theme song for the hit TV sitcom Veronica’s Closet, lyrics for the end-title music to the Jennifer Lopez film The Wedding Planner, and the songwriting for Disney’s animated feature films Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan, Zippel attests that there are unique challenges accompanying success as a lyricist. When projects fall through, “your failure is very public and that’s not a lot of fun,” he says, “but you have to be willing to take the risk.” Though the awards and the upcoming revue are a nice mark of success, he says, “The work really is the most satisfying part of it.”

—Sarah Blackman C’03

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Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 9/02/02

“It’s a great moment
to hear a vocalist
sing your song for
the first time.”

I don’t need a map

I nat’rally head for the
dead end street

You can always count on me

I’m caught in a trap

When joy is approaching
then I retreat

I’m at home with misery

I’ve been “the other woman”

Since my puberty began

I crashed the junior prom

And met the only married man

I’m always on tap

For romance or choc’late
that’s bitter sweet

You can always count on me

—From “You Can Always
Count on Me,”
City of Angels, lyrics by David Zippel, music
by Cy Coleman. Published by Notable Music (ascap)