George Cates, musical arranger and composer who spent more than three decades as the musical director and conductor of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, died Friday of heart failure at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. He was 90.
A native of New York City, he decided early on to pursue a career in music and played professionally with the Dick Stabile and Henry Busse bands. In 1939 he joined the Russ Morgan Orchestra as a tenor saxophone player and arranger.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy where he taught music and worked with military bands. After the war, he settled in Los Angeles and landed a job as an arranger and division head for Decca Records, working with such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters.
Cates met Lawrence Welk in 1951 and eventually became the musical director of Welk’s TV show, which proved to be an enduring hit, airing weekly from 1951 to 1983 and is still in syndication.
Cates’ wife Ruth died in 1973; he later married Miriam Bregman. His daughter Gail died in 1999.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Richard.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. today at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.
In lieu of flowers, family suggests donations in his name be made to the Simon Wiesenthal Center or the American Heart Assn.