Bill Lewis Downer, a major figure in American music publishing for four decades, died Feb. 26 of heart failure at his home in Los Angeles. He was 86.
Downer rose through the music-publishing ranks in the 1940s as head of Decca Records’ Northern Music satellite, a position he retained after the firm merged with Universal Pictures and later MCA Music. At MCA, he acquired the rights to several hundred major copyrights.
A longtime friend to jazz artists, he nurtured and provided material for such performers as Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Al Hibler and Louis Jordan. He also worked with such performers as Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Jo Stafford and Doris Day.
Among his publishing accomplishments, Downer promoted Victor Young and Edward Heyman’s “When I Fall in Love,” and Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Tammy,” as well as numerous compositions of Henry Mancini and Rod McKuen.
He also packaged a group of songs that Brenda Lee turned into hits, including “I’m Sorry,” “Dum Dum” and “Break It to Me Gently.”
In his spare time, Downer was a horticulturist who contributed frequently to the Los Angeles Times and the Brooklyn Horticultural Society.
He is survived by a sister.
There will be a memorial gathering April 16 at the home of Roger and Jennifer Warren Gimbel. For information, call (323) 935-4716.