He Writes the Songs

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

“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 HerculesMulan, 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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