Irwin Levine, who co-wrote the hit song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,” died Jan. 21 at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., at the age of 58. The hospital declined to disclose the cause of death.
Levine was honored by the Smithsonian Institution for the song, which he co-wrote with Larry Brown. It was originally recorded by Tony Orlando and Dawn and topped the charts for four weeks in 1973. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby also performed the song.
There have been some 2,000 versions since the original hit, making it the second-most-recorded song in history. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Beatles’ “Yesterday” is the most recorded song.
Levine and Brown collaborated on some 40 hits, including “Knock Three Times” and “Sweet Gypsy Rose,” but it was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” that made them famous, becoming popular again as an anthem of hope during the hostage crisis in Iran.
At the end of the Iranian drama, when some freed hostages wore yellow ribbons, Levine was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “For someone who writes for a living, I was at a loss for words. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” was about the homecoming given a released prisoner, and music historians trace the yellow ribbon image to a 19th-century Army song.
Brown said in 1991 that their song was based on a story he had read of a soldier coming home from the Civil War who wrote to his loved one that if he was still welcome home after the war, she should tie a handkerchief around a certain tree.
Brown said the handkerchief was not particularly romantic, so he and Levine changed it to a yellow ribbon.
Levine was born in Newark. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.