NEW YORK • Michael Masser, whose lush melodies were recorded by Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack and many other star vocalists, died last Thursday at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 74.
The cause was complications of a stroke he suffered three years ago, said his business manager.
As Masser cycled to work as a stockbroker in Midtown Manhattan in the 1960s, he would detour to the Juilliard School to putter on a piano. A self-taught pianist, he could not read music, but an inner muse was urging him to switch careers and pursue his true calling.
As he said in 1988, he saw a shrink and told him he wanted to write music. "He said, 'What's the problem with that?'," Masser recalled. "I told him that didn't go over well in my family. He listened, took my money and said, 'Here's a note of permission to write music. That's all you need to clear your conscience.'"
With the celebrated songwriter Johnny Mercer as a mentor, he began composing ballads with epic sweep.
In 1973, he wrote (with lyricist Ron Miller) and produced Touch Me In The Morning, which revitalised Ross' career and started his own. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart and remained on the list for 21 weeks.
His Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To?), with lyrics by Gerry Goffin, recorded by Ross and featured in a 1975 film in which she starred, was nominated for an Academy Award for best original song and reached No. 1 on the singles chart. Ross also sang (and had a Top 10 hit with) his It's My Turn, with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. The theme from the 1980 film of the same name, it was praised in a New York Times review by Janet Maslin as a "hugely effective theme song".
While producing Teddy Pendergrass' 1984 album Love Language, Masser met Houston, who sang a duet with Pendergrass on Hold Me, which Masser had written with Linda Creed. Shortly after, he began a collaboration with Houston, as both composer and producer, that catapulted her to stardom.
Among her chart-topping singles he wrote were The Greatest Love Of All (with Creed), Saving All My Love (with Goffin) and Didn't We Almost Have It All (with Will Jennings).
His other hits as a songwriter included Tonight, I Celebrate My Love (with Goffin), a Top 20 single for Peabo Bryson and Flack in 1983; Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You (also with Goffin), a Top 20 hit for Glenn Medeiros in 1987; and Miss You Like Crazy (with Goffin and Preston Glass), a Top 10 single for Natalie Cole in 1989.
In 2007, Masser was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He was born Michael William Masser in Chicago. His first marriage ended in divorce. Survivors include his second wife, two daughters and a son.
"The biggest thing I got from Johnny was, 'Don't rush a song,'" he recalled of Mercer in an interview. "And the thing I ran up against was everybody wanted a song so fast. It took me two years to finish Touch Me In The Morning." NEW YORK TIMES