Best known for his work in film and television, with a career spanning the period between the early 1940s and the early 1970s, David was the elder brother of American lyricist and songwriter Hal David. He was credited with writing lyrics and/or music for over one thousand songs. He was particularly well known for his work on the Disney films “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland”.
Born to a Jewish family, David originally planned to become an attorney and attended Cornell University and St. John’s University Law School. Despite these original goals, in the mid-1940s, David began writing songs for New York’s Tin Pan Alley. These initial successes prompted David to move to Hollywood, California, to work in the film and television industries. David enjoyed considerable success, including eight Academy Award nominations for “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”, which he, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston wrote for Walt Disney’s “Cinderella” (1950), followed by the title songs from “The Hanging Tree” (1959), “Bachelor in Paradise” (1961), “Walk on the Wild Side” (1962), “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963), “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964), “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” from Cat Ballou (1965) and “My Wishing Doll” from Hawaii (1966). David was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975. His “most remunerative” song, “Sunflower”, was published in 1948, and Frank Sinatra turned it into a hit.
Jerry Herman’s hit theme song for “Hello, Dolly!”, composed over a decade later, used the same melody line as David’s “Sunflower.” When David sued Herman for copyright infringement, Herman settled out of court with David (for a reputed $250,000), claiming he had never heard David’s “Sunflower” prior to working on “Hello, Dolly!”David also collaborated with many composers, including Raymond Scott, Al Hoffman, Alex Kramer, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, and Jerry Livingston, on numerous songs for stage and screen, including “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “Bourbon Street Beat,” “Surfside 6” and “This Is It” (for the 1960s “The Bugs Bunny Show”).But perhaps David’s most popular lyrics were those written for “La Vie en rose,” a French song with lyrics by Édith Piaf and music by Louigny (Louis Guglielmi), which had been Piaf’s “signature song”.
Although David did not write an English translation of Piaf’s lyrics, his words captured the spirit of the song and became a very popular American version because of performances by artists such as Louis Armstrong. The song has also been recorded by over eighty international singers and musicians, and been featured in several dozen motion pictures.David’s song “Candy” (co-written with Whitney and Kramer) was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald for her 1968 album 30 by Ella.