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"What a Wonderful World" is a song written by Bob Thiele (as "George Douglas") and George David Weiss. It was first recorded by Louis Armstrong and released as a single in 1967. Thiele and Weiss were both prominent in the music world (Thiele as a producer and Weiss as a composer/performer). Armstrong's recording was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The publishing for this song is controlled by Memory Lane Music Group, Carlin Music Corp., and Bug Music, Inc.
Intended as an antidote for the increasingly racially and politically charged climate of everyday life in the United States, the song also has a hopeful, optimistic tone with regard to the future, with reference to babies being born into the world and having much to look forward to. The song was initially offered to Tony Bennett, who turned it down. Thereafter, it was offered to Louis Armstrong. George Weiss recounts in the book Off the Record: Songwriters on Songwriting by Graham Nash that he wrote the song specifically for Louis Armstrong. George was inspired by Louis’s ability to bring people of different colors together. The song was not initially a hit in the United States, where it sold fewer than 1,000 copies because the ABC Records head Larry Newton did not like the song and so did not promote it, but was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart. In the US, the song hit #116 on theBillboard Bubbling Under Chart. It was also the biggest-selling single of 1968 in the UK where it was among the last pop singles issued by HMV Records before becoming an exclusiveclassical music label. The song made Louis Armstrong the oldest male to top the chart, at sixty-six years and ten months old. Armstrong's record was broken in 2009 when a cover versionof "Islands in the Stream" recorded for Comic Relief – which included 68-year-old Tom Jones – reached number one. Interestingly Tony Bennett did go on to cover What A Wonderful World several times, in 2003 with K.D. Lang paying homage to his late friend Louis Armstrong.
ABC Records' European distributor EMI forced ABC to issue a What A Wonderful World album in 1968 (catalogue number ABCS-650) which did not chart in the US due to ABC's non-promotion of it, but did chart in the UK where it was issued by Stateside Records with catalogue number SSL 10247 and peaked on the British chart at #37.
The song gradually became something of a standard and reached a new level of popularity. In 1978, Armstrong's 1967 recording was featured in the closing scenes of the first series of BBC radio's cult hit, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and was repeated for BBC's 1981 TV series of the same. In 1988, Armstrong's recording was featured in the film Good Morning, Vietnamand was re-released as a single, hitting #32 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1988. The single charted at number one for the fortnight ending June 27, 1988 on the Australian chart.
In 2001, rappers Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and The Alchemist released "The Forest," a song which begins with three lines of lyric adapted from "What a Wonderful World", altered to become "an invitation to get high" on marijuana. The rappers and their record company, Sony Music Entertainment, were sued by the owners of "What a Wonderful World," Abilene Music. The suit was thrown out of court after judgeGerard E. Lynch determined that the altered lyric was indisputably a parody, transforming the uplifting original message to a new one with a darker nature.
- 1967: Louis Armstrong, million selling original version
- 1989: Roy Clark covered this song on his album of the same name. His version peaked at number 73 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.
- 1990: Little Willie Littlefield recorded a version for his album Singalong with Little Willie Littlefield
- 1990: The Flaming Lips: on their album In a Priest Driven Ambulance
- 1993: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: Hawaiian ukulele version (medley with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") on the album Facing Future. It has sold over 2.5 million copies in the United States and Canada alone.
- 1999: Anne Murray on her platinum release of the same name, which also spawned a book and video. The album reached number one on the US Contemporary Christian charts, number 4 on the US Country charts, and number 38 on the top 200.
- 1999: Kenny G.: on his album Classics in the Key of G in which his sax solo was dubbed over Louis Armstrong's recording
- 2001: Michael Bublé covered this song on his independent album BaBalu
- 2002: Canadian children's musician Raffi Cavoukian covered this on the album Let's Play
- 2002: Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge: recorded a version for their CD "Peace On Earth"
- 2002: Joey Ramone on his posthumous album Don't Worry About Me
- 2003: Guy Sebastian on his album Just As I Am (more upbeat alternative arrangement by Sebastian)
- 2003: Tony Bennett and K.D. Lang sang duet on a selection of songs inspired by the legendary Louis Armstrong on the album WONDERFUL WORLD 2003 Produced by T Bone Burnett which included "What A Wonderful World".
- 2003–2006: Celine Dion performed the song in her residency show in Las Vegas, A New Day.... The performance was included in the 2004 live album, A New Day... Live in Las Vegas. A studio version was included in the 2004 albumMiracle.
- 2005: The Meads of Asphodel covered this song on the 'Damascus Steel' album with different lyrics
- 2004: LeAnn Rimes covered this song on her album of the same name
- 2007: Sarah Brightman recorded the song for her 2007 album Harem.
- 2007: Katie Melua: singing with Eva Cassidy's version to raise money for the Red Cross. This version reached #1 in the UK chart in December 2007.
- 2008: Kaitlyn Maher performed this song on the third season of America's Got Talent
- 2011: Anna Graceman performed this song on America's Got Talent when she was eleven years old
- 2012: Esperanza Spalding performed the song at the 84th Academy Awards. Her rendition was released on iTunes compilation Celebrate the Music- the 84th Academy Awards.
- 2012: Pat Byrne reached number 3 in the Irish Singles Chart after appearing on the Voice Of Ireland