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Welch amassed 19 Emmy nominations during his career, all shared with his late wife, composer, lyricist and writer Marilyn “Mitzie” Welch. They also had a nightclub act and were married from 1956 until her death in June 2014.
The couple composed music for CBS’ famed Carol Burnett Show for seven seasons, from 1971-77, and also wrote and produced material for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, Linda Lavin, Burt Bacharach, Suzanne Somers, The Carpenters, Hal Linden and Bob Hope.
Welch was born on Feb. 4, 1926, in Kansas City, Missouri. He played the piano and the accordion and tap danced as a youngster in theaters throughout Missouri, Kansas and Iowa before going to college at Carnegie Tech, where he studied painting.
He first met Mitzie at an audition, and Bob Newhart once opened for them on stage. During an appearance on Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show, he played the accordion while she sang on a version of “I Got Rhythm.”
Ken Welch and Burnett worked together for the first time in 1957 when he accompanied her on the piano as she auditioned for a summer stock gig in the Adirondack mountains.
A bit later, when she needed a new song for her act at the Blue Angel in New York City, they came up with “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles,” a spoof in the Elvis Presley era about a young girl who falls head over heels for the dour U.S. Secretary of State. He was not a sex symbol, to say the least.
Audiences roared with laughter, and within days of performing the novelty tune, Burnett was appearing twice on The Tonight Show and on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the early 1960s, Welch was hired to work on Garry Moore’s CBS variety show, on which Burnett regularly performed, and he created a 1962 CBS special, Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, featuring Burnett and Andrews. (He and Mike Nichols wrote the song “You’re So London” for that.)
A year later, Welch wrote musical numbers for 1963’s An Evening With Carol Burnett, and in 1970, he and his wife moved to Los Angeles to work on Burnett’s show starting with its fifth season.
They couple also came up with material for such TV specials as 1973’s Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments; 1976’s Sills and Burnett at the Met and A Special Olivia Newton-John; 1979’s Dolly and Carol in Nashville; 1978’s The Star Wars Holiday Special; 1979’s The Hal Linden Special; and 1987’s Carol, Carl, Whoopi and Robin.
Survivors include his daughters Julie and Gillian, a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who is nominated for an original song Oscar this year for “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” featured in the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
A donation in his name may be made to Doctors Without Borders.
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