Q&A with Wallis Ambassadors Co-Chair
The arts help us remember the past, endure the present, and envision a better future.
The beloved song “What the World Needs Now” was written by the late Academy Award-winning lyricist Hal David, who was married to The Wallis Ambassadors Co-Chair and long-time supporter, Eunice David for 25 years. We spoke with Eunice about the song that is still being recorded during times of trouble 55 years on.
Was there a particular circumstance or event that inspired your husband to write the song? This was written as Hal’s protest song for the Vietnam war. He had two sons who were of an age to be drafted, and he felt that we needed peace and understanding more than war. He got the idea for the first few lines as he was driving into New York City from Roslyn, New York, as he did every day to work with Burt Bacharach at the Brill Building. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Then it took him over a year to come up with the words “Lord, we don’t need another mountain, there are mountains and hillsides enough to climb…” Hal was a terrible driver even at the best of times, and he said he always wondered why so many drivers were honking their horns at him as he was driving along, with his head in the sky, trying to think of those lyrics.
What was the most memorable performance of this song? Who was the artist? Dionne Warwick sang all of the songs that Hal and Burt wrote; they actually wrote them specifically for her. But she didn’t want to record this song, for reasons that even to this day escape her. The fellows heard that Jackie DeShannon was looking to record something, so they offered the song to her. It became a huge hit for Jackie, actually jump-starting her career, even though she had already written several songs on her own. Eventually Dionne recorded it herself, claiming that it should be the new National Anthem.
The song continues to be more relevant as the years pass. Why do you think this song resonates so deeply with people? The song has been recorded by over 100 artists, and seems to be sung repeatedly whenever there is a disaster. Jackie DeShannon’s version was played for 3 days when Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968 and has been played after school shootings and other tragedies, and now during this pandemic.
As did a group of Broadway stars including Sara Bareilles, Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, Gloria Estefan, Carole King, Sarah Jessica Parker, and many more.
Hal and I were in New York on 9/11, and actually watched from our living room window as the second plane flew into the World Trade Towers. We sent donations to both of the first responders, the Police Department and the Fire Department, along with the lyrics of the song, and received wonderful thank you notes from both groups.
I think the words are poignant and give hope to people in times of need. It is quite remarkable that Hal’s lyrics are so relevant today, even though they were written 55 years ago.