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OBITUARIES / Gloria Baker, 1923 - 2008

Pianist wrote music for holiday song

March 15, 2008|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Gloria Shayne Baker, who co-wrote the modern-day classic Christmas carol "Do You Hear What I Hear?" with her then-husband Noel Regney, has died. She was 84.

Baker died March 6 at her home in Stamford, Conn., of lung cancer that had metastasized, her daughter, Gabrielle Regney, said.

A pianist whose forte was popular music, Baker usually wrote the lyrics and Regney composed the music for their collaborations. But the roles were reversed for the Christmas tune they wrote in October 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, when the U.S. and Soviet Union were locked in a confrontation over the Soviets' placement of ballistic missiles in Cuba.

Inspired by the sight of infants in strollers on the streets of New York City, Regney opened the song with the words, "Said the night wind to the little lamb, 'Do you see what I see?' " and included the line, "Pray for peace, people everywhere."

"Noel wrote a beautiful song," Baker told an interviewer years later, "and I wrote the music. We couldn't sing it, though. . . . Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at the time."

The song was first recorded by the Harry Simeone Chorale and sold more than a quarter-million copies upon its release just after Thanksgiving 1962. The next year Bing Crosby made it an international hit. The song has been recorded hundreds of times since then in nearly every conceivable musical style.

Baker wrote many songs on her own, most notably "Goodbye Cruel World," a hit for James Darren in 1961.

Among the songs she and Regney wrote together are "Rain Rain Go Away," recorded by Bobby Vinton, and "Sweet Little Darlin'," sung by Jo Stafford. Baker also collaborated with Jerry Keller on "Almost There," which was recorded by Andy Williams, and with Mary Candy and Eddie Deane on "The Men in My Little Girl's Life," performed by talk show host Mike Douglas.

Born Gloria Adele Shain in Brookline, Mass., on Sept. 4, 1923, she began playing piano as a child and accompanied pupils who were taking singing lessons from her mother.

After studying piano at Boston University, she moved to New York City in the 1940s and began playing piano before live audiences and for demo recordings. She also arranged music for such composers as Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim. She changed the spelling of her last name for professional reasons.

While playing piano at a New York City hotel in 1951, she met Regney, a Frenchman who had recently immigrated to the United States. They soon married and began working together.

They divorced in 1973, and she married William Baker two years later. He died in 2001, and Regney died in 2002.

In addition to her daughter, Baker is survived by son Paul Regney, a grandson, four stepchildren, 10 step-grandchildren, a brother and two sisters.

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claire.noland@latimes.com

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