2004-07-15 / Front Page

Lyricist of popular song ‘Unchained Melody’ dies

William Stirrat
of Freehold Township
authored lyrics in 1936
BY LINDA DeNICOLA
Staff Writer

Lyricist of popular song
‘Unchained Melody’ dies
William Stirrat
of Freehold Township
authored lyrics in 1936
BY LINDA DeNICOLA
Staff Writer

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — The melody is unchained from its composer now, with the passing of William Albert Stirrat, 83, on July 2. As a teenager, Stirrat wrote the lyrics to "Unchained Melody," a haunting ballad which has been called one of the most enduring songs ever written.

"Unchained Melody" has been featured in several movies, including a memorable scene in "Ghost." The song initially appeared in the 1955 film "Unchained."

Greater Media Newspapers told Stirrat’s story and the story of "Unchained Melody" in an article that was published in December 2003.

Stirrat wrote the lyrics in 1936 while he was still in high school and then went on to establish a significant career as an electrical engineer. He married, had three children and spent part of his adult life chasing after the recognition and royalties he felt he deserved for having written a song that has been an American standard for almost 50 years.

Stirrat explained that the issue of authorship was complicated by the fact that there were five men claming to be Hy Zaret, the name he made up when he penned the song.

"One of the reasons I decided to collect royalties was to get at the facts and find out what was going on. At first, I just figured the song would go away and I could forget about it," he said.

As it turned out, "Unchained Melody" never went away. The song has been recorded by a number of artists and its place in the American songbook is secure.

Stirrat was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and moved to the Jersey Shore in 1950 when he was hired as an electrical engineer in research and development by the U.S. Army at Fort Monmouth, Eatontown. He worked for the Army for 27 years before becoming principal engineer for Eagle Tech Logican Inc. Northrop Grumman Corporation in Eatontown until 1992, when he retired.

According to his obituary, he circumvented a standard violation of mathematical discipline and originated in 1964 the binomial pulse as a powerful breakthrough in bandwidth reduction, and he initiated a correction in 1971 to texts on electromagnetic field theory.

He also conducted research in control and interference in design of SYNCOM 1 ground stations, and deception control in Tactical Fire Control Systems.

While Stirrat was distinguishing himself in his chosen field, "Unchained Melody" was developing as one of the most popular songs of the second half of the 20th century.

Stirrat liked to tell the story about how the song came to him. He was pining over a girl in his high school and was on a summer scholarship at Yaddo’s Triuna Arts of the Theatre School where he met a composer named Alex North, who wrote the music for his lyrics.

It took 19 years before "Unchained Melody" was performed in public, but when the song came out in 1955 it went straight to the top and has been there on and off for almost 50 years.

Stirrat lived in Freehold Township for the past 35 years. He is survived by his wife, Bernice; a son and daughter-in-law, William and Valerie Stirrat of Freehold; two daughters and a son-in-law, Valerie and John Reynolds of Randolph, and Dorothy Callihan of Tucson Ariz.; and six grandchildren, Brian, Amanda, Stephanie, Allison, Tyler and Rachel.

He was a member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Freehold, and a mem­ber of the Sons of America Revolution.

Disc jockey Dave Kapulsky said last year that "Unchained Melody" is time­less.

"It’s a song that knows no death. A classic in the true sense. It’s a safe bet that ‘Unchained Melody’ will re-emerge once again in the current decade," he said.


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