Community: Hal Wetherwax left behind a musical legacy in Burbank

Walking down the street, I couldn't remember which house it was, but suddenly I heard the familiar trombone and it guided me to my destination.

Students of Harold "Hal" E. Wetherwax had made a circle around the grand piano in the living room and they were remembering their teacher by playing lively music after the morning funeral. The piece was "Sunny."

Wetherwax passed away on July 18. Family members, including his wife, Virginia, and daughter Leslie were seated around the room.

The musicians were Hal's three sons — Michael (piano), Pete (guitar), and Randy, (drums) Randy's son Jules (bongos), Tom DiLiberto (saxophone), Keith Myatt (trumpet), Rob Rudolph (trombone) and vocalist Andrea Robinson.

They are a sliver of the legacy left by Wetherwax. Hundreds of his former students continue to play professionally or just for enjoyment.

Wetherwax moved to Burbank as a teen and attended Burroughs Junior High and Burbank High School, graduating among the Class of 1942. He was vice president of the student body, yell leader and played in the school swing band, concert band and orchestra and sang in the a cappella choir.

At age 17, he joined the Navy and was in the admiral's band stationed in Trinidad. After the war, he returned to L.A., where he formed a jazz trio that played at clubs and was the house band for the "Ralph Edwards Show" on NBC.

One day after taping the show (still in full makeup and costume), he met Virginia Porcaro at Caro's, an Italian restaurant owned by her family. They fell in love and married six months later.

For the next 60 years, Wetherwax taught hundreds of kids and adults music, along with teaching at St. Francis Xavior and St. Robert Bellarmine schools. He was the band leader for marching bands, jazz bands and pop bands. As a teacher, he emphasized the value of playing in groups and performance, said his eldest son, Michael.

In the 1970s, he assembled two bands made up of his sons and several elementary and junior high students, called the Reflectors and the Starlighters (all members lived in the Starlight Hills area of Burbank).

He even had a group of girls called The Moonmaids, who sang "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

Wetherwax secured gigs for the groups at weddings, parties, Disneyland, Burbank's Golden Mall and cast parties for the "Laugh-In" TV show.

Many of Wetherwax's students attending last week's post-funeral reception have achieved success in music.

Michael Wetherwax has had a long career writing, recording and editing music and sound for film and TV. He was composer on CBS TV's new version of "The Twilight Zone" and was dialogue editor on the TV film "Love Finds a Way." He is getting back to his roots, he said, performing live again and putting together a quintet.

He says his Dad was always challenging him. When he was 3, Michael Wetherwax said he sat at the piano and started playing. His father came over to him and said, "Now, play it in another key."

Wetherwax was always encouraging the kids to perform.

Once, during a Reflectors gig, a little boy sat down behind the drummer with several coffee cans turned upside-down and started banging on them.

"He was staring up at the drummer as if to say, 'Someday, I'm gonna be just like him!' " Michael Wetherwax said.

Andrea Robinson sang in the choirs at Burbank High and was a member of the Southern California Honor Choir. A highlight of her professional career is providing the singing voice of Queen Athena, mother of Ariel in Disney's "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning."

She has also sung with Paul McCartney, John Williams and Burt Bacharach as well as freelance jobs on various film and television projects as well as commercials.

My brother Rob Rudolph has been principal trombonist at the College of the Canyons since 2005, which has given him the chance to perform with several high-profile performers at the college's Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center.

He continues teaching private lessons to students of all ages and, for the past three years, has taught music on the elementary-school level for the Saugus Union and Sulphur Springs school districts.

He said the money our mom paid Wetherwax for music lessons was the best investment she ever made.

"He is a legend!" my brother said.


JOYCE RUDOLPH can be reached at

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