November 3, 1933
Country of origin
Born as John Barry Prendergast in York, Great Britain.
Died: January 30, 2011 (age 77) in Oyster Bay, New York, USA.
Few composers of the past half-century have enjoyed as much popular success or worldwide influence as John Barry. The winner of five Oscars, four Grammys and other honours ranging from the Golden Globe to Britain's Anthony Asquith Award, he has written some of the most memorable movie music of our time: Born Free, Midnight Cowboy, Goldfinger, Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, Somewhere in Time and dozens of other scores.
Critics have marvelled for decades at the Barry touch - a remarkable ability to capture the mood and flavour of every kind of movie, from the fanciful adventure of a James Bond thriller to the epic romantic visions of today's leading filmmakers, while retaining a style that is uniquely his own.
He was born John Barry Prendergast in York, England, in 1933. His father owned a chain of theatres, where John worked as a youth and where he first became fascinated by both movies and movie music. He played the trumpet and studied music throughout his teen years, as well as during a three-year stint in the Army (including correspondence-course instruction with famed Stan Kenton arranger Bill Russo).
After leaving the service, he formed a band, the John Barry Seven, which played rock 'n' roll at various live venues and on such seminal TV dance shows as Six-Five Special, Oh Boy! and Drumbeat. By 1958 his band was backing up-and-coming rock star Adam Faith, and when Faith made his film debut in the 1960 film Beat Girl, it was Barry who supplied its hip jazz and rock score. Beat Girl became the first British movie to issue a soundtrack on long playing records.
Barry's experiments with string arrangements (notably on his original album Stringbeat), his arranger producer credits for EMI artists, and his long held desire to compose using a broader musical canvas, soon led to a series of assignments for low budget films. All that changed when James Bond entered the picture in 1962.
Barry turned The James Bond Theme, written for the first Bond movie, Dr. No, into a commercial success, making him first choice of producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to write the scores for subsequent films. His bold, brassy and exciting music became a key element of the Bond formula. He scored From Russia With Love, pushed The Beatles out of the no. 1 album spot in America with Goldfinger and maintained the tradition throughout the 60s with Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The latter was especially noteworthy for Barry's collaboration with lyricist Hal David and vocalist Louis Armstrong on the touching love song We Have All the Time in the World.
Barry remained James Bond's composer through three decades and three more Bonds (George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton) - 12 films in all, to 1987's The Living Daylights. His Bond title songs have been performed by some of the hottest names in popular music, from Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever) to Duran Duran (A View to a Kill), Chrissie Hynde and a-ha (The Living Daylights).
But, while Barry was becoming world-famous for his Bond music, he was also embracing very different musical styles for very different movies in the mid-60s: a light and lyrical touch for the African-lion family film Born Free, which won him Oscars for Best Song and Best Score; a taut, dramatic and surprisingly American score for producer Sam Spiegel's all-star The Chase; and jazzy contemporary organ solos for Richard Lester's The Knack... and How to Get It, just to name a few.
At the same time, the composer's restless search for unusual sonorities led him to explore the fringes of the musical spectrum, resulting in some of the 60s' freshest, occasionally even startling scores featuring a cymbalum for The Ipcress File, a barrel organ for The Quiller Memorandum, a breathy female voice for The Knack, a harpsichord for The Whisperers, a Moog synthesizer for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and many others.
The music of John Barry distinguished many of the movie hits of the 60s, from the wide-screen action of Zulu to the critically acclaimed, now classic adaptation of James Goldman's The Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn. For the latter - a score that deftly combined choir with the darker colours of the orchestra to suggest 12th-century England - Barry won his third Academy Award, as well as the British Film Academy's prestigious Anthony Asquith Award for original film music. On the heels of these top honours, he won his first Grammy for the wistful harmonica theme of John Schlesinger's much-talked-about Midnight Cowboy.
One of his most fruitful collaborations was with director Bryan Forbes, who began by hiring the composer for a pair of jazz numbers in The L-Shaped Room in 1963. His confidence in Barry resulted in full scores, often employing unique ensembles, for subsequent Forbes films: a chamber group for the suspenseful Seance on a Wet Afternoon, a grim but atmospheric approach for the prisoner-of-war drama King Rat, a sympathetic score for Dame Edith Evans in The Whisperers, a lively period score for the comedy The Wrong Box. For Deadfall, Barry wrote a single-movement guitar concerto for a 15 minute jewel-robbery sequence that remains one of the 60s most unique marriages of cinematic imagery and orchestral music.
The 70s saw Barry branching out in all musical directions, from stage to screen to television. Having enjoyed a successful West End run with the show Passion Flower Hotel in 1965, he collaborated with famed lyricist Alan Jay Lerner on the short-lived Lolita, My Love, then created a huge West End hit in 1974's Billy, starring Michael Crawford and co-written by longtime friend and lyricist Don Black.
Varied movie assignments continued to elicit diverse music from the now seasoned composer-arranger-conductor. He received another Oscar nomination for his alternately delicate and dramatic score for Mary, Queen of Scots, then wrote several songs (again with Don Black) for the all-star musical adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Artistic successes such as Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout and John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust, and commercial hits like King Kong, The Deep and The Black Hole, were all enhanced by Barry scores.
Television also provided Barry with a chart hit in the theme for The Persuaders, ATV's light-hearted series with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore. Katharine Hepburn, a fan and friend since The Lion in Winter, also convinced Barry to score her major TV appearances, including The Glass Menagerie (entirely for solo piano, played by the composer) and Love Among the Ruins (the charming, Emmy-winning film with Hepburn and Laurence Olivier). Also in the 70s, Barry's scores for Eleanor and Franklin and its sequel, Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, were among the decade's most distinguished musical achievements for the small screen.
Originally considered an "action" composer - largely on the basis of his famed James Bond scores - Barry began to shed that label with several richly romantic scores in the 70s and 80s, notably the Sean Connery-Audrey Hepburn Robin Hood tale Robin and Marian and the cult favorite Somewhere in Time, whose multiple cable TV showings turned the soundtrack into a gold-record hit. A steamy, jazz-inflected score for Body Heat followed, as did an expansive, moving and unforgettable score for Sydney Pollack's film Out of Africa, which won Barry his fourth Academy Award. He also won a Grammy and a Golden Globe for Out of Africa, and collected yet another Grammy for his music for Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club.
A serious illness in 1988 led to a long recuperation period for the composer. He returned after a two-year hiatus with a complex and thrilling symphonic score for Kevin Costner's epic western Dances With Wolves, earning him a fifth Oscar and a fourth Grammy.
Since then, there have been a variety of accomplishments, in many different arenas of music, including another Oscar nomination (for the melancholy score of Chaplin) and a 3-D IMAX movie (the New York travelogue Across the Sea of Time).
In Spring 1998, John Barry signed to Decca Records as a recording artist, which led to the release of The Beyondness of Things, his first album of non-soundtrack music for 25 years. This lush and colourful album of original music also heralded his triumphant return to the concert hall: he conducted the English Chamber Orchestra in London's Royal Albert Hall in 1998 and then again in 1999. His most recent release on Decca is a collection of jazz tunes for Miramax's Playing by Heart, expanded considerably for the album.
In June 1999, John Barry was named an Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his outstanding achievements in music. Then, in October 1999, he was honoured at London's annual Music Industry Trust Dinner, a star-studded benefit that raised more than $200,000 for charity. He lives in Oyster Bay, New York, with his wife Laurie and son Jonpatrick.