Ray Hildebrand, the ‘Paul’ of Hitmakers Paul and Paula, Dies at 82


Ray Hildebrand, whose recording with a friend, Jill Jackson, of a love song he wrote in college, “Hey Paula,” became a No. 1 hit in 1963 and brought them instant fame as Paul and Paula, died on Aug. 18 at his home in Overland Park, Kan. He was 82.

His son-in-law, Larry Sterling, said the cause was dementia.

“Hey Paula” was a sweet, romantic ballad about a couple close to marrying. Mr. Hildebrand had written it at the request of a friend whose girlfriend was named Paula, but the emotion behind it was for Judy Hendricks, a former girlfriend with whom Mr. Hildebrand wanted to reunite.

The song is a musical conversation started by Mr. Hildebrand, who sings in, part:

Hey, hey, Paula.
I want to marry you.
Hey, hey, Paula.
No one else could ever do.

When Ms. Jackson answers, she sings:

Hey, Paul.
I’ve been waiting for you.
Hey, hey, hey Paul.
I want to marry you too.

The popularity of “Hey Paula” evolved slowly and then exploded. It began as a song that Mr. Hildebrand and Ms. Jackson sang on a 15-minute radio show she had in Brownwood, Texas, where they were both attending Howard Payne College (now University). The show’s disc jockey told them that listeners loved the song, and suggested they record it.

At a studio in Fort Worth, they cut a 45-r.p.m. record, and the song, released on the small Le Cam label, became a regional hit. Recognizing the song’s potential, Mercury Records soon bought their contract and the recording and reissued it on its Philips label.

“They changed our names,” Mr. Hildebrand told Link, the Howard Payne magazine, in 2012. “We called the song ‘Paul and Paula’ by Jill and Ray, and they called it ‘Hey Paula’ by Paul and Paula, which is better marketing.”

Released in late 1962, “Hey Paula” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the second week of February 1963, displacing “Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers. It stayed in the No. 1 spot for three weeks. Paul and Paula’s next single, “Young Lovers,” peaked at No. 6 at the end of that April.

They were on tour in England in the spring, when “Hey Paula” rose to No. 8 on the Melody Maker chart and they met the Beatles in a BBC television studio.

In June they sang “First Quarrel” on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and they later joined Mr. Clark’s three-week musical caravan as part of a roster that also included Gene Pitney, Lou Christie, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, the Crystals and Ruby and the Romantics.

But when the Clark tour reached Cincinnati at the end of July, Mr. Hildebrand realized that he had had enough of the road. At the end of a show, he told Ms. Jackson that he was quitting the tour. He felt he was no longer in control of his life.

“So at 5 o’clock in the morning in Cincinnati, I wrote Dick Clark a note and slipped it under his door,” he said at an event held two years ago by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a sports ministry, to which he devoted much of his life. “I said, ‘I’m so sorry.’”

For the rest of the tour, Mr. Hildebrand said in an interview with the website Classic Bands, Mr. Clark filled in for him on “Hey Paula.”

Once he was off the tour, Mr. Hildebrand started dating Miss Hendricks again. They married in early 1964 and stayed together until her death in 1999.

Jill Jackson, who is now Jill Landon, said she supported Mr. Hildebrand’s decision to leave the Clark caravan. “It was the right thing for him to do,” she said by phone.

She and Mr. Hildebrand released three albums in 1963. They continued to perform together occasionally for a while and, until recently, reunited at oldies shows and other events.

Raymond Glenn Hildebrand was born on Nov. 21, 1940, in Joshua, Texas. His father, Walter, was a school principal; his mother, Alma (Wood) Hildebrand, was a teacher. After attending Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Texas, he transferred to Howard Payne College on a basketball scholarship.

In the summer of 1962, he got a job at the college’s swimming pool and, to save money on housing, lived in the gymnasium. In the quiet of the gym, he started writing songs.

He was asked by a teammate to write a song about his girlfriend, Paula. Another teammate listened to an early version of the song, which was told entirely by Paul, and suggested a change.

“He said, ‘You ought to let the girl sing back to the guy,’” Mr. Hildebrand recalled in the Link magazine interview. At first, he said, he thought the suggestion was ridiculous, but then he agreed to do it, turning the song into a conversation.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in English in 1964, Mr. Hildebrand started a new career as a contemporary Christian singer and songwriter. He recorded albums under his own name and, starting in the 1980s, with a partner, Paul Land, in an act that mixed music with comedy.

From 1967 to 1981, he was program director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the organization’s national office in Kansas City, Mo. It was mostly a musical job, writing songs with pop melodies and performing them at conferences and summer camps for young athletes. He continued to perform at Fellowship events for many years.

“He brought a great deal of fun and laughter to the stage,” Wayne Atcheson, a former assistant director of the organization, said in a phone interview. “You never knew what he would say to get a belly laugh.”

Mr. Hildebrand was inducted into the Fellowship’s Hall of Champions in 2003.

He also worked as a television producer and a real estate appraiser.

He is survived by his daughter, Heidi Sterling; his son, Michael; seven grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a brother, Steve.

Looking back at “Hey Paula” many years later, Mr. Hildebrand said he understood its appeal.

“I think one of the things ‘Hey Paula’ had was, it was like a couple dating over the air,” he said in the Classic Bands interview. “They were singing back and forth to each other. You had your Steve and Eydies, but it was not in the teenage pizza-and-peanut-butter songs.”

He added: “It was marketable. It was cute.”

POST AUTHOR: Richard Sandomir

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