A cherished member of the film, TV and theater music community, Billy Goldenberg, has passed. His longtime friend and colleague, Richard Bronskill, has offered a personal tribute.
Rest in peace Billy.
By happy accident, I met Billy in the late 1980s, not long after I had arrived in LA. He had two upcoming projects on top of each other and was going to need an orchestrator. I arrived at his house in Toluca Lake for our first meeting where he was preparing lunch. He wanted to hear my demo reel and we got talking intently, as musicians tend to do. Suddenly there was smoke in the kitchen, fire on the stove (luckily he had cats so we used cat litter to douse the flames), and the smoke alarm went off. He couldn’t turn it off and it would take 20 minutes or so for the security company to get there to disable it. Bad enough, but Billy had perfect pitch and the alarm was just a few cents short of Bb; fingernails scraping across a chalkboard! Well, that did not go well I thought; a bad omen? Not the lasting positive impression I had hoped to leave him with!
Fortunately, he hired me to orchestrate that TV movie, the first of at least 10 projects that I would eventually orchestrate for him. Billy expected excellence, and it was rare that he would acknowledge a job well done. But occasionally he would turn on the podium, eyes smiling, big and bright, nodding his head in my direction – praise enough indeed.
We recorded the score to a miniseries at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin where U2 had started their career. Word got around that he’d been Elvis’s comeback music director so they dropped in for a wee visit that lasted hours. I was orchestrating a last minute cue in the studio while Billy regaled them with Elvis stories in the control room. He thought Elvis was highly underrated!
Billy retired to New York in the 1990s, but we’d lunch and catch up with our lives when he’d come back to LA to visit one of his best friends, Bea Arthur. Being retired, he always said he hated when people asked him what he was working on; “Why can’t they ask what I’m reading or seeing at the theater?” So I’d ask him what he was reading recently or what he’d recommend on Broadway, and he’d tell me what he was working on.
For a production in California earlier this year, Billy wrote 5 new songs and revised the overture to his Broadway musical, Ballroom, all of which I had the great pleasure of arranging and orchestrating. He could still nail what a character was all about in a song. He was a dramatist, a man of the theater.
At his 84th birthday party in February in LA, we laughed about the smoke alarm so many years ago; he said his perfect pitch was sagging and he would probably be totally in tune with it now. After a long chat in the corner away from the others, we hugged, I told him I loved him, he loved me too. That was the last time I saw him.
He was a gentleman; good-natured, generous and gracious. I will miss him.Richard Bronskill
Read more about Billy Goldenbergs’s career in this tribute by Jon Burlingame in Variety.