When I first introduced myself as an employee of The Juilliard School, Eddie Snyder (’39, piano) said, “Juilliard? That was a long time ago.”
Seventy years, to be precise. And though you may not recognize his name, chances are you can sing at least a few bars of his most acclaimed tune, “Strangers in the Night.” That’s right—Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”
Make no mistake, though—Snyder is no one-hit wonder. He has written hits for Al Martino, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, and Brenda Lee. His hit “Spanish Eyes” was re-recorded by Willie Nelson. Other highlights include “100 Pounds of Clay,” “Remember When,” “Talk to Me,” “10 Lonely Guys,” and “Bitter With the Sweet.”
A piano student, Eddie Snyder first worked as a classic “piano man” in bars, clubs, and hotels. Though he never studied voice, he says he was able to “get away” with singing enough to keep the gigs coming. After Juilliard, Snyder left New York with his family for Florida, where he took his repertoire into the Miami scene. In 1945 he met the future Mrs. Snyder—a singer also on the nightlife circuit. The couple wed in 1947. In the early 1950s, Snyder was able to find work in the music publishing business, and began his long, prolific career.
In 1959, he submitted his first score to Frank Sinatra: the song “Talk to Me.” It was released on vinyl by Capitol Records, along with “They Came to Cordura.” The song rose to number 20 on the charts—a flop for the gold-plated Sinatra. Over the next seven years, Sinatra declined further work from the composer. Then came 1966, a new job for Snyder with a new publisher, and a bid to write a song for the upcoming film A Man Could Get Killed.
“We had the scene—a man is sitting across from a girl in a bar. That was it,” says Snyder. Along with his writing partner, Bert Kaempfert, and lyricist Charles Singleton, Snyder spent two weeks at the piano. They titled their ballad “Strangers in the Night.”
A year later, Sinatra had one of his greatest hits, the 1969 Grammy Award for best male pop vocal performance, and the Grammy Award for record of the year—and Snyder had a Golden Globe for best original song in a motion picture.
“‘Strangers in the Night’ made a bum out of me,” he says. “Because I didn’t have to work anymore.” The song has been performed more than four million times since the original recording and featured in at least 24 films.
Snyder has no formula for songwriting. “Spanish Eyes” (or “Blue Spanish Eyes”), recorded by both Al Martino and Willie Nelson, was written in just 60 minutes, with nothing but a deadline and a title. Other projects have taken weeks, months, or even years. And just because a song has been recorded doesn’t mean it’s finished—at least, not by Snyder’s standards.
“I’ve been working on “Mississippi” for 25 years,” he says. When he met fellow composer Bob Hendricks—of “Under the Boardwalk” fame—some six months ago, he showed him the score. “I’ve recorded it twice,” Snyder says, “but he thinks he can do it better.”
So how is he spending his golden years? Doing what he’s always done. “I’m more active now than I ever have been, because there’s a big songwriting community down here,” Snyder says. He and his wife still live in central Florida, and keep active at the piano. And they recently spent what Snyder referred to as “a whole week of celebrating”—on February 16, Jessie Snyder celebrated her 82nd birthday (“I robbed the cradle,” Snyder laughs). On February 18, the couple celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. And on February 22, Eddie Snyder turned 90.
“I’m going to die with a pen and a legal pad in my hand,” Snyder told the Orlando Sentinel in 2000. “I hope it won’t be until my 100th birthday.”
So do we, Mr. Snyder. So do we.