Jack Segal


Jack Segal, 86; Lyricist Was Best Known for ‘Scarlet Ribbons’

Times Headlines By Myrna Oliver, Times Staff Writer

Jack Segal, lyricist for such standards as “Scarlet Ribbons,” “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “When Joanna Loved Me,” has died. He was 86. Segal died Thursday at his Tarzana home of natural causes associated with aging, his son, Mark, said. The songwriter’s hits — which helped sell an estimated 65 million records — have been recorded by such artists as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore and Perry Como.

In 1999, 1only1.com’s “Songwriter Tribute Series” released Jack Segal Special Edition Packages with autographed sheet music, a CD of Segal performing his greatest hits and a booklet in which he described the writing and placement of a song and who recorded it. “I wanted to make a record that reflected the song as it was originally recorded and shown to the artists who cut it,” he explained. “Just the song itself at the piano, as I might have played it for Harry Belafonte or Tony Bennett.” The ballad that was perhaps Segal’s greatest hit, “Scarlet Ribbons,” flowed onto paper in just 15 minutes in 1949. It happened when he was invited to the Port Washington, N.Y., home of concert pianist Evelyn Danzig Levine to hear some of her formal compositions. “She did some difficult songs but in between performed a piano exercise,” he told the London Guardian after Levine’s death in 1996.

Segal liked what he heard, and when the pianist left the room to attend to guests, jotted down the lyrics with the memorable phrase “scarlet ribbons for her hair.” Though the guests liked the result, the song languished until Segal presented it to Belafonte five years later.

After Belafonte’s recording made the song a hit, about 30 artists subsequently recorded “Scarlet Ribbons,” including the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Sinead O’Connor, the Lennon Sisters, Wayne Newton, Como and Shore. Como called it “perhaps the most beautiful tune I ever sang.”

Segal wrote “When Sunny Gets Blue,” among several other songs, with Marvin Fisher. He composed “When Joanna Loved Me,” popularized by Tony Bennett, in 1963 with another longtime collaborator, Bob Wells, with whom he also wrote the Sinatra hit “Here’s to the Losers.”

Among Segal’s other songs were “Bye Bye Barbara,” “What Are You Afraid Of,” “Hard to Get,” “After Me,” “More Love,” “Strings” and “Too Soon Old — Too Late Smart.”

Born in Minneapolis, Segal earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin, added a master’s from the New School for Social Research and studied creative writing.

He began his career in Paramount Pictures’ music department, and later wrote television specials for Belafonte, Paul Winchell and Janet Blair.

Segal taught songwriting at Cal State Northridge and in USC continuing education classes.

He is survived by his wife, Helen; sons David, Mark and Jason; a daughter, Jody Davis; and two grandchildren.