Sunday, July 8, 2007

Claude PompidouWidow of French President

Claude Pompidou, 94, the publicity-shy widow of President Georges Pompidou who famously called the presidential palace "a house of sadness," died July 3 in Paris. No cause of death was reported.

Mrs. Pompidou established a foundation in 1970 to help handicapped children, the elderly and hospital patients. In a message on the foundation's Web site, she had cited philosopher Rene Descartes: "To be of no use to anyone is to be good for nothing."

Passionate about modern art -- particularly the work of French artist Yves Klein -- Mrs. Pompidou was instrumental in the creation of a modern art museum that bears her husband's name. Opened in 1977, the audacious, tube-covered Pompidou Center is one of Paris's most popular museums.

President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Claude Pompidou as "a very great lady" who "brought honor to our country." But he also said she "suffered because she did not always appreciate the very cruel side of political life" and chose to live "very discreetly" after her husband died in office on April 2, 1974.

Hy ZaretLyricist

Hy Zaret, 99, who wrote the haunting words to "Unchained Melody," one of the most frequently recorded songs of the 20th century, died July 2 at his home in Westport, Conn. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Zaret penned words to many songs and advertising jingles, but his biggest hit was "Unchained Melody," written in 1955 for a film called "Unchained." It brought the lyricist and Alex North, the composer, an Academy Award nomination for best song.

Mr. Zaret refused the producer's request to work the word "unchained" into the lyrics, instead writing to express the feelings of a lover who has "hungered for your touch a long, lonely time."

The song has been recorded more than 300 times, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which listed it in 1999 as one of the 25 most-performed musical works of the 20th century. But most baby boomers remember the song from the Righteous Brothers' version, produced by Phil Spector. It reached No. 4 on the Billboard chart in 1965 and was a hit again 25 years later when it was used on the soundtrack of the film "Ghost."

In later years, Mr. Zaret had to fend off the claims by another man, electrical engineer William Stirrat, who said he wrote the "Unchained Melody" lyrics as a teenager in the 1930s and even legally changed his name to Hy Zaret. Mr. Zaret's son Robert and Jim Steinblatt, an assistant vice president at ASCAP, both said the dispute was resolved completely in favor of the real Zaret, who continued to receive all royalties. Steinblatt said Stirrat died in 2004.

Bill PinkneyDrifters Singer

Bill Pinkney, 81, the last survivor of the original members of the musical group the Drifters, was found dead July 4 at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort in Daytona Beach, Fla.

No cause of death was reported, but police said the death was not considered suspicious. He was scheduled to perform there Wednesday night, and the group went onstage without him.

Mr. Pinkney, born in Dalzell, S.C., wasn't with the Drifters when they recorded their biggest hits, "Under the Boardwalk," "Up on the Roof" and "Save the Last Dance for Me." He left the band in 1958 because of an argument over money. His distinctive bass voice can be heard on the group's version of the holiday classic "White Christmas."

Even though he left the group, he didn't let go of the Drifters name. He fought for laws allowing performers or bands to claim an affiliation with a classic group like the Drifters or the Coasters if at least one member recorded with the original group. The Drifters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Mr. Pinkney pitched for the New York Blue Sox of the Negro Baseball Leagues in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

-- From News Services

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