David Elliott—We Lost a Friend and Colleague

Last Friday brought this news from Jon Lehrich, Chairman of WHRB’s Board of Trustees:

Friends:

I am writing to share the sad news that David Elliott passed away last night, after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

David was enormously important to WHRB and to many of us personally.  His leadership, his dedication, his enthusiasm, and his tireless insistence on excellence inspired generations of students.  His fans were legion, among alumni and listeners alike.

We are deeply saddened by this loss.  We are coordinating with his family to understand their wishes for his remembrance.  I also encourage you to share the news among the worldwide WHRB community.

Our hearts and sympathies go out to all who knew and admired David.  Please be well.

Jon

David Elliott at WHRB’s 75th Anniversary Celebration, October 2015 (Photo by Randy H. Goodman)

David Elliott was known to many listeners of Hillbilly at Harvard, especially those who looked forward to his comments on the Metropolitan operas that have followed HAH for some years now. Others will remember David dropping by to plug one of his special programs, especially his afternoon of American classical music for Independence Day, his Christmas specials (featuring a reading of A Christmas Carol by Lionel Barrymore), and his Orgies® of American musical comedy and song. Although David’s expertise in classical music and its recorded history was legendary, his musical interests ranged much wider, especially to older recordings and musical novelties. So he fit right in with the spirit of Hillbilly at Harvard.

Of course the Hillbilly show was special to him because of its long history at WHRB. David was the unofficial historian of the station, giving a semi-annual lecture to new members, and maintaining contact with many old ones. He took a special, we might say custodial, interest in HAH, especially after my broadcast partner Ol’ Sinc passed away at the end of 2002, and for this I remain grateful. David occasionally found songs (like ‘It’s Alright [sic] To Be Fat at Christmas’, by Stringhan Walters) and replaced missing ones, including the CD with our themes that mysteriously disappeared. He maintained the small library of my pre-recorded Generic Hours until his illness made it impossible. And several times over the years he actually co-hosted HAH as a ‘Fillbilly’ when I was out of town, once with John Lincoln Wright, other times with Gerry Katz and/or Larry Flint.

David was above all an exponent of radio, of the art of broadcasting, and his constant influence was one reason why WHRB has consistently maintained a high standard of professionalism, even while staffed by a constantly rotating cast of undergraduates. He certainly encouraged me to keep Hillbilly at Harvard going over the past couple of decades, in part I think because he valued the show as typical of the radio he remembered from years past. I don’t doubt that, behind the scenes, David was instrumental in keeping HAH a fixture of the Saturday morning schedule.

Beyond all this, David was a friend and colleague, and enormously helpful to me in other ways, especially as an advisor when, some years ago, I was trying to run a classical-music record label (Northeastern Records). His absence from WHRB has been a tremendous loss to all of us, ever since the inexplicable ALS disease confined him to a bed in 2018. Friday just made it worse. /CL

#

PS Looking for something to play for David, I chanced upon this March 2017 email from him:

The Met opera this week is the famous William Tell (aka Guillaume Tell) by Rossini, from which comes the overture.

I don’t suppose you have any country versions of the famous part of the overture….

I responded: “Yes! Bob Wills! Swing, but I’ve played it before. And, of course, not even remotely country, there’s. . . Spike Jones! Now what in the world did I do with the Spike Jones CD. . .?”

I didn’t find Spike Jones, so I played the Bob Wills ‘William Tell’. Afterwards, David wrote,

I heard the Bob Wills — lovely! I brought in my Spike Jones LP version of the William Tell Overture just in case I got the courage to play it, but it was getting very late, and in fact I wanted to play (and did play) a Toscanini recording of the Overture which we doctored in about 1963 (hasn’t been heard since we aired it on Midnight Symphony back then). When it gets to the last section, we put in the opening of The Lone Ranger from an LP I had (and probably still have). The trumpet fanfare is played, and on the last section (the repeated notes) you hear horse’s hoofbeats. At the end of the last note of the fanfare you hear Brace Beemer (the Lone Ranger) say “Hi-yo, Silver!” and there are a few gunshots, and then the Toscanini recording resumes with the big tune. I chose the Toscanini recording because its sound (in NBC’s Studio 8H) was the closest to the sound of the studio orchestra playing for The Lone Ranger. It worked pretty well. So between you and me, we provided bookends of crocques. [‘Crocque’ is the WHRBic spelling of ‘crock’, in the sense of a novelty, or silly event.]

It was only a few seconds, but deliciously funny. “I wonder how many people that went by before they realized it,” I wrote. To which David responded,

Tony Lauck (whom you don’t know) was the engineer of the overture, and he did a splendid job. When we first played it, on Midnight Symphony, there was a phone call right after the interpolation: “Cut that out!” the person said. Too late — it happened and was over quickly.

I’d insert it now, but it would take some editing, and you really need much of the surrounding Overture to appreciate it. So instead, belatedly, here is Spike Jones’s ‘Williiam Tell Overture’. It’s never too late:

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9 Responses to David Elliott—We Lost a Friend and Colleague

  1. renzscott says:

    This is sad news indeed. He will be missed.

  2. Steve Bartlett says:

    David was definitely a Class Act, evidenced by his according HAH the same respect he showed the Metropolitan Opera. He was WHRB’s Milton Cross..
    I had the good fortune to meet David a couple of times at the WHRB studios, and also spoke with him on the phone when I called HAH and he answered.

    David was one of the Nice Guys.

  3. Peter Kinder says:

    A lovely tribute, Lynn. Thank you. He opened my tastes to music I would not have listened to. He nurtured programs at WHRB that changed my thinking. I doubt many professors at Harvard can have affected so many people as David Elliott did. You captured that well.

  4. Clinton _Street_Matters says:

    Thank you so much, CL, for bringing you own special feeling to the news of David’s death. He was the paragon of a good radio men, whether hosting the WHRB Met broadcasts or illuminating the drama and excitement of Commencement. I hope management finds a suitable and enduring memorial to him. So much missed.

  5. Gerry Katz says:

    Lynn –

    Thanks for passing on this sad news. For me, much like HAH, David was a WHRB institution. It was a pleasure, and a bit of a dog fight, when I sat in with David to cover your rare absences from a Saturday morning. We’d fight a bit over the content to play, but I always marveled at how he could merge his breadth of musical knowledge and the HAH catalog. Where would our lives be without the segue from HAH to the Met Opera. Thanks David.

    Fond memories,

    Best,

    Gerry

  6. Catherine Johnson says:

    We are very sad to hear of Mr. Elliott’s passing. My husband relied on him for his.classical music programming and I.greatly enjoyed his occasional visits to HAH. Rest in peace.
    Cathy and Arden Johnson

  7. Clinton _Street_Matters says:

    Hope everybody knows by now of the station’s tribute to David on Dec. 24. Can’t get his memory out of mind. Years ago, when the Met’s Saturday matinee broadcast was featuring Listeners’ Memories, I submitted a personal recollection and was treated to a whirlwind trip to Lincoln Center to record it. It was marvelously produced, and when it was broadcast, David made a dry reference to my “Harvard-ness”
    — according to a colleague who was listening live.

    This was quite something, since, evidently, David was no fan of changes that had recently been made to the broadcast and rarely had anything good to say about them.

    • Thanks for your story. My impression, too, was that David was not enamored of the announcers who succeeded Peter Allen. David could have done the job of course, but I assume it was never offered, and he would not have left Boston/Cambridge/WHRB in any case. /CL

      • Peter Kinder says:

        David was the only person who could have replaced Milton Cross. Like Cross, he knew how to interview musicians. He told stories so well. And, his passion for the music was, like Cross’s, infectious in the best sense. Peter Allen was a pro, but he was no David Elliott.

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