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“Melody” Maker

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The lyrics to "Unchained Melody" were written by William Stirrat '41. Hallmark features the song in its "Say It With Music" card series.

It’s no surprise that the work of Rensselaer alumni is far-reaching and varied. Bridge builders, engineers, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs, Rensselaer alumni have long helped to shape our world.

One particular graduate has also helped provide the soundtrack.

William Stirrat ’41 (who used the pen name of Hy Zaret) wrote the words to one of the most recorded songs of all time, “Unchained Melody.” Stirrat wrote the lyrics in 1936 when he was on a summer scholarship at Yaddo’s Triuna Arts of the Theatre School in Lake George, N.Y. It was there that he met Alex North, who composed the music. North, who later went on to become a well-known composer of Hollywood movie scores, was on the Yaddo staff. It took 19 years before “Unchained Melody” was performed in public (as part of a B movie called Unchained), but when the song came out in 1955 it went straight to the top of the charts and has been there on and off for more than 50 years.

The song experienced a surge in popularity in 1990 when it was used in the popular movie Ghost starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. Today, “Unchained Melody” is enjoying another revival, as a featured song in Hallmark’s popular “Say It With Music” greeting card collection.

“ ‘Unchained Melody’ was the top-rated card in our market research in both purchase appeal and song appeal,” according to Tom Esselman, innovation director at Hallmark. “It was the one card the song card team unanimously chose to provide as a sample to our Hallmark retailers nationwide.”

Although Stirrat didn’t pursue music as a career, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he co-produced six albums of science songs for children. After Rensselaer, he became an electronics engineer for the U.S. Army, General Electric, and Northrop Grumman. He retired in 1992 and died on July 2, 2004, in Freehold Township, N.J.

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