Willner died Tuesday at the age of 64. He had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, though he had not been officially diagnosed. Jimmy Fallon also paid tribute to Willner on Tuesday.
“He was the music supervisor at Saturday Night Live. He was so much more than that,” said Meyers.
“He was the show’s spiritual connection to the past. The 1970s gritty New York vibe just radiated off Hal,” the host continued. “He loved to tell you how boring New York City was today compared to what it was like in the ’70s. And now that Hal’s gone, it is true that New York City is a far more boring place to be.”
Meyers recalled Willner having “really weird taste but really fun taste.” He added, “If you wrote a sketch that bombed in front of an audience, you would be sure that Hal would track you down with a smile and tell you they were all wrong and that was the best thing in the show that night.”
“Hal and I would often talk about how much we loved John Prine,” he said about the musician who also died from complications of the coronavirus Tuesday. He was 73.
“I loved John Prine from the first time I heard him, but I didn’t think he was cool because he was my parents’ favorite and his first album was just him sitting on a bale of hay,” said Meyers. “But as I’ve gotten older, I realized John Prine is cool because every cool person I know loves John Prine.”
The host added that many people were introduced to Prine’s music by their parents and “he was the only person they could agree to listen to on road trips.”
Meyers then recalled a family celebration for his father’s 70th birthday. “Our night ended with my brother, myself and my parents drunkenly singing along to John Prine, getting about 60 percent of the lyrics right,” he shared.
“My kids love John Prine and I think there’s something really special, something that says and speaks to exactly how unique John was as a singer-songwriter, that his songs could work across generations,” he said. “One of the reasons I love him so much is because when I listen to John Prine, I think about the people I love, and that’s a really special thing.”
Meyers concluded the tribute by sharing a clip of Prine performing “Hello in There” on SNL in 1976. “It’s a song he wrote when he was in his early 20s about old people and how they get lonesome,” he explained. “Right now in this moment we’re living through, where so many of us feel lonely and especially older people, I can’t think of a better way to hear his wisdom and his sweetness than to watch him.”
Stephen Colbert also paid tribute to Prine on The Late Show.
The CBS host recalled becoming familiar with Prine’s work when his wife sent him a cassette tape featuring the song “Paradise” while they were dating. He recalled, “I loved that song and I loved her for showing it to me. I learned it on the guitar so I could play it over the phone to her because we were living in different cities.”
“I started studying at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where I was happy to learn that John had been,” he said, adding that he learned to play “How Lucky.” Colbert said that song taught him “to be grateful about the things I don’t remember about childhood.”
He then reflected on interviewing Prine, performing for him with John Dickerson and even getting to sing with Prine himself.
“I got to know a lot of people who also loved John: guests on the show, Dave Matthews, Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlile,” he said before sharing that Simpson, Carlile and Prine previously performed “Summer’s End” together on The Late Show.
Colbert then introduced Carlile, who the host asked to perform one of Prine’s songs on the episode. “I’ve been thinking long and hard about it because there are so many amazing and powerful messages that John Prine has left the world, and for the people that weren’t familiar with his music, they’re about to get a whole lot of truth dropped on them,” she said.
The singer opted to perform “Hello in There.” She said that Prine would have wanted her to sing the song because “this song refers to the people that we’re all staying home to protect and it reminds us that older people aren’t expendable, that they made us who we are and they’ve given us every single thing that we have.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.