September 12, 2007 by

John Wallowitch

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Categories: Musicians

jwallowitch.jpgJohn Wallowitch, a Broadway songwriter and composer who penned more than 2,000 songs, died on Aug. 15 of bone cancer. He was 81.
The Philadelphia native was only seven years old when he wrote “Waiting on Passyunk Bridge,” a song about committing suicide over unrequited love. He had hoped to become a high school music teacher when he grew up, but World War II altered his plans. Wallowitch joined the Army and served his enlistment in the United States singing in USO clubs.
After the war ended, Wallowitch attended Temple University for a short time, then moved to New York City to study classical piano at the Juilliard School of Music. He attended the prestigious institution on scholarship, supporting himself by playing piano for dance classes and coaching singers. He made his debut at the Carnegie Recital Hall, then traveled all over Europe, performing concerts for the State Department. When he returned to the states, he became a rehearsal pianist for Broadway shows, a nightclub singer and a professional songwriter.
Over the course of his five-decade career, Wallowitch played in many of Gotham’s top cabaret rooms, performing original songs like “Bruce,” “Manhattan, You’re a Dream,” “I See the World Through Your Eyes” and “Back on the Town.” He had a long-running hit revue called “The World of Wallowitch” and released seven albums. Wallowitch also coached aspiring performers and penned songs that were recorded by Tony Bennett, Blossom Dearie, Doc Severinson, Dixie Carter and Shirley Horn.
Beginning in 1980, Wallowitch produced a late-night public-access TV show called “John’s Cabaret,” which featured him singing songs from Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood that he found at yard sales and memorabilia shows. Tapes of the shows are ensconced in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive at Lincoln Center.
Wallowitch and his longtime partner Bertram Ross, who was Martha Graham’s principal dance partner, made their debut as a cabaret team in 1984 at The Ballroom in SoHo. John S. Wilson of The New York Times described the act as “hilarious, outrageous, sublime.” Their 34-year romance, both on-stage and off, was the subject of the 1999 documentary “Wallowitch & Ross: This Moment.” Ross died in 2003.
The talented songwriter won both the MAC and the Bistro Award for Composer of the Year. But friends say he was best known for his natty style of dress, self-proclaimed obsession with Joan Rivers and wicked sense of humor.
Each year on Christmas Eve, Wallowitch would honor his mentor, Irving Berlin, by gathering a group of friends together to sing “White Christmas” in front the lyricist’s home. In 1983, Berlin came out and told Wallowitch the annual concert was the nicest Christmas present he ever received. The tradition continued for 36 years. After Berlin’s death in 1989, the home was taken over by the Luxembourg consulate. Charmed by the holiday performance, delegates invited Wallowitch and the other carolers inside to perform in Berlin’s former library.

One Response to John Wallowitch

  1. Michael Rosen

    While surfing on the net, I just learned John Wallowitch, had passed away. I am deeply saddened. His songs and lyrics were wonderful. Heartfelt, funny, sad, clever, topical and universal. You will be sorely missed.

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