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Obituaries

George Cates, 90; Welk's Musical Director

May 18, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

George Cates, the composer, arranger, conductor and record producer who began playing tenor sax in various bands and later became musical director of "The Lawrence Welk Show," has died. He was 90.

Cates, musical director of the show for three decades, died May 10 in Los Angeles of heart failure.

Welk's theme song, "Champagne Time," was composed by Cates, who expected nothing more than to make a record or two when he met Welk in 1951.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 24, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 336 words Type of Material: Correction
Cates obituary--An obituary of composer and conductor George Cates on May 18 identified "Champagne Time" as the theme song of "The Lawrence Welk Show." The song, a Cates composition, actually was titled "Champagne Fanfare" and was the show's theme after 1971. "Bubbles in the Wine," written by Welk, Frank Loesser and Bob Calame, served as the show's theme from 1955 to 1970.

Instead, Cates became an integral part of the Welk professional family, appearing regularly on the show and later conducting the Welk band on camera.

With his own orchestra, Cates also hit the top 40 charts with his 1955 recording of "Moonglow" and "Theme From 'Picnic.'"

Altogether, Cates collected five gold records for his top-selling recordings of motion picture themes and other arrangements.

Included on such discs were "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" (Que Sera, Sera), sung by Doris Day in the film "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and the title song from the movie "Friendly Persuasion."

Cates provided the accompaniment for Steve Allen's successful 1955 piano recording of "Autumn Leaves."

He also arranged music for such recording artists as Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, the Andrews Sisters and Teresa Brewer.

Although Cates mirrored Welk in creating straightforward, danceable music, he occasionally veered from type to good effect, as with his 1961 Dot Records album "Polynesian Percussion."

It featured highly praised instrumental work by his brothers-in-law Alvino Rey and Buddy Cole on console guitar and electric organ, backed by more than 15 unusual percussion instruments.

Born in New York City, Cates was encouraged by his parents to study law. He chose music instead and, after graduating from New York University, went to work for the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson arranging music for their revue "Hellzapoppin'."

Cates played tenor saxophone and arranged music for such bands as those of Henry Busse, Dick Stabile and Russ Morgan.

During World War II, he served in the Navy, teaching music and organizing bands for the military.

He settled in Los Angeles after the war, and worked as a producer for the Coral and Dot record companies until he joined Welk's organization in the early 1950s.

Widowed in 1973 by the death of his wife of 25 years, Ruth Rubin, Cates married Miriam Bregman, who survives. He is also survived by one son and two stepchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles or to the American Heart Assn.

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