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Name: John Barry Prendergast
Born: 3rd November 1933
Died: 30th January 2011
Occupation: Composer, conductor
Years active: 1959 – 2006
John Barry Prendergast, OBE (3 November 1933 – 30 January 2011) was an English film score composer. He is best known for composing 11 James Bond soundtracks and was hugely influential on the musical style of the 007 series, along with the general feeling of the films.
In a career spanning almost 50 years, Barry received numerous awards for his work, including five Academy Awards; two for Born Free, and one each for The Lion in Winter (for which he also won a BAFTA Award), Out of Africa and Dances with Wolves (for which he also won a Grammy Award) and Somewhere in Time (1980) (Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score – Motion Picture).
Early life and family
Barry was born John Barry Prendergast, in York, England and was the son of a musically talented mother and a charismatic Irish father. He was raised in and around cinemas in Northern England.
His father, Jack Xavier Prendergast, from Cork, was a projectionist during the silent movie era who ended up owning a chain of movie theaters across northern England. Often, while watching a film, Barry would note with pen and paper, what worked or what did not.
His childhood background in movies influenced Barry’s music interests.
Although originally a classical pianist, Barry also learned the trumpet and grew interested in composing and arranging music. During his National Service in Cyprus, he began performing as a musician. After taking a correspondence course (with jazz composer Bill Russo) and working as an arranger for the Jack Parnell and Ted Heath’s Orchestra he formed his own band in 1957, The John Barry Seven, with whom he had some hit records, including “Hit and Miss”, the theme tune he composed for the BBC’s Juke Box Jury programme, a cover of the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”, and a cover of the theme for the United Artists Western The Magnificent Seven. The career breakthrough for Barry was the BBC television series Drumbeat, when he appeared with The John Barry Seven and arranged for many of the singers, including Adam Faith; he also composed songs (along with Les Vandyke) and scores for films in which Faith was featured. When Faith made his first film, Beat Girl, in 1960, Barry composed, arranged and conducted the score, his first. His music was later released as the first soundtrack album on LP in the UK. Barry also composed the music for another Faith film, Never Let Go, orchestrated the score for Mix Me a Person, and composed, arranged and conducted the score for The Amorous Prawn.
Barry was employed by the EMI record company from 1959 until 1962 arranging orchestral accompaniment for the company’s recording artists. From 1962, Barry transferred to Ember Records where he produced albums as well as arranging them.
These achievements caught the attention of the producers of a new film called Dr. No who were dissatisfied with a theme for James Bond given to them by Monty Norman. Barry was hired and the result was one of the most famous signature tunes in film history, the “James Bond Theme”. (Credit goes to Monty Norman, see below.) When the producers of the Bond series engaged Lionel Bart to score the next James Bond film From Russia with Love, they discovered that Bart could neither read nor write music. Though Bart wrote a title song for the film, the producers remembered Barry’s arrangement of the James Bond Theme and his composing and arranging for several films with Adam Faith. Lionel Bart also recommended Barry to producer Stanley Baker for his film Zulu. Bart and Barry worked together in the film Man in the Middle.
This was the turning point for Barry, and he went on to become one of the most celebrated film composers, winning five Academy Awards and four Grammy Awards, with scores for, among others, The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free, and Somewhere in Time.
Barry was often cited as having had a distinct style which concentrated on lush strings and extensive use of brass. However he was also an innovator, being one of the first to employ synthesizers in a film score (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and to make wide use of pop artists and songs in Midnight Cowboy. Because Barry provided not just the main title theme but the complete soundtrack score, his music often enhanced the critical reception of a film, notably in Midnight Cowboy, the 1976 version of King Kong, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves.
One of Barry’s best known compositions is the theme for the 1971 TV series The Persuaders!, also known as “The Unlucky Heroes”, in which Tony Curtis and Roger Moore were paired as rich playboys solving crimes. The score for the series was composed by Ken Thorne. The theme went on to be a hit single in some European countries and has been re-released on collections of 1970s disco hits. The instrumental recording features Moog synthesizers. Barry also wrote the scores to a number of musicals, including Passion Flower Hotel (lyrics by Trevor Peacock), the successful West End show Billy (lyrics by Don Black) and two major Broadway flops, The Little Prince and the Aviator and Lolita, My Love, the latter with Alan Jay Lerner as lyricist.
Barry’s work began to be sampled in the 1990s by artists such as Dr. Dre and Wu-Tang Clan, with his “James Bond Theme” being sampled by performers as diverse as Bonobo, Gang Starr and Junior Reid. Fatboy Slim used the opening guitars from “Beat Girl (Main Title)” for “Rockafeller Skank” from his 1998 album, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby. The Sneaker Pimps also sampled “Golden Girl” on their 1996 single “6 Underground”. Additionally, “You Only Live Twice” was heavily sampled on “Millennium” from Robbie Williams’ second album, I’ve Been Expecting You.
In 2002, Barry was named an Honorary Freeman of the City of York.
During 2006, Barry was the executive producer on an album entitled Here’s to the Heroes by the Australian ensemble The Ten Tenors. The album features a number of songs Barry wrote in collaboration with his lyricist friend, Don Black. Barry and Black also composed one of the songs on Shirley Bassey’s 2009 album, The Performance. The song entitled, “Our Time is Now”, is the first written by the duo for Bassey since “Diamonds Are Forever”.
James Bond series
After the success of Dr. No, Barry scored eleven of the next 14 James Bond films (but with Monty Norman continually credited as the composer of the “James Bond Theme”).
In his tenure with the film series, Barry’s music, variously brassy and moody, appealed to film aficionados. For From Russia With Love he composed “007″, an alternative James Bond signature theme, which is featured in four other Bond films (Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker). The theme “Stalking”, for the teaser sequence of From Russia With Love, was covered by colleague Marvin Hamlisch for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). (The music and lyrics for From Russia With Love’s title song were written by Lionel Bart, whose musical theatre credits included Oliver!). Barry also (indirectly) contributed to the soundtrack of the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale: his Born Free theme appears briefly in the opening sequence.
In Goldfinger, he perfected the “Bond sound”, a heady mixture of brass, jazz and sensuous melodies. There is even an element of Barry’s jazz roots in the big-band track “Into Miami”, which follows the title credits and accompanies the film’s iconic image of the camera lens zooming toward the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.
As Barry matured, the Bond scores concentrated more on lush melodies, as in Moonraker and Octopussy. Barry’s score for A View to a Kill was traditional, but his collaboration with Duran Duran for the title song was contemporary and one of the most successful Bond themes to date, reaching number one in the United States and number two in the UK Singles Chart. Both A View to a Kill and the Living Daylights theme by a-ha blended the pop music style of the artists with Barry’s orchestration. In 2006, a-ha’s Pal Waaktaar complimented Barry’s contributions “I loved the stuff he added to the track, I mean it gave it this really cool string arrangement. That’s when for me it started to sound like a Bond thing”.
Barry’s last score for the Bond series was 1987′s The Living Daylights, Dalton’s first film in the series with Barry making a cameo appearance as a composer in the film. Barry was intended to score Licence to Kill but was recovering from throat surgery at the time and it was considered unsafe to fly him to London to complete the score. The score was completed by Michael Kamen.
David Arnold, a British composer, saw the result of two years’ work in 1997 with the release of Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project, an album of new versions of the themes from various James Bond films. Arnold thanks Barry in the sleeve notes, referring to him as “the Guvnor”. Almost all of the tracks were John Barry compositions, and the revision of his work met with his approval – he contacted Barbara Broccoli, producer of the then upcoming Tomorrow Never Dies, to recommend Arnold as the film’s composer. Arnold also went on to score the subsequent Bond films: The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
Sole compositional credit for the “James Bond Theme” is attributed to Monty Norman, who was contracted as composer for Dr. No. Some 30 years later, in 2001, the disputed authorship of the theme was examined legally in the High Court in London after Norman sued The Sunday Times for publishing an article in 1997 in which Barry was named as the true composer; Barry testified for the defense.
In court, Barry testified that he had been handed a musical manuscript of a work by Norman (meant to become the theme) and that he was to arrange it musically, and that he composed additional music and arranged the “James Bond Theme”. The court was also told that Norman received sole credit because of his prior contract with the producers. Barry said that a deal was struck whereby he would receive a flat fee of £250 and Norman would receive the songwriting credit. Barry said that he had accepted the deal with United Artists Head of Music Noel Rogers because it would help his career. Despite these claims the jury ruled unanimously in favour of Norman.
On 7 September 2006, John Barry publicly defended his authorship of the theme on the Steve Wright show on BBC Radio 2.
On 20 June 2011 The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a tribute to the late composer to celebrate his life and work. Many of his colleagues from the James Bond franchise will be in attendance, including, Dame Shirley Bassey and Sir George Martin. The event is sponsored by The Royal College of Music through a grant by the Broccoli Foundation.
Barry was educated at St Peter’s School, York, and also received composition lessons from Francis Jackson, Organist of York Minster.
Barry moved to California in 1975, with a British judge later accusing him of emigrating to avoid paying £134,000 due the Inland Revenue. The matter was resolved in the late 1980s and Barry was able to return to the UK. He subsequently lived for many years in the United States, mainly in Oyster Bay, New York, on Long Island, from 1980.
Barry suffered a rupture of the oesophagus in 1988, following a toxic reaction to a health tonic he had consumed. The incident rendered him unable to work for two years and left him vulnerable to pneumonia.
Barry was married four times. His first three marriages, to Barbara Pickard (1959–1963); Jane Birkin (1965–1968); and Jane Sidey (1969–1978), all ended in divorce. He was married to Laurie from 1978 until his death. The couple had a son, Jonpatrick. Barry had three daughters, Suzanne (Susie) with his first wife, Barbara, Kate with his second wife, Jane, and Sian from a relationship with Ulla Larson between the first two marriages.
Barry died of a heart attack on 30 January 2011 at his Oyster Bay home, aged 77. He is survived by Laurie, his wife of 33 years, and by his four children and five grandchildren. There was a private funeral service, and a memorial concert will take place in June 2011 in the United Kingdom.
Awards and nominations
Five Academy Awards
1966 Best Original Song for “Born Free” from Born Free
1966 Best Original Music Score for Born Free
1968 Best Original Music Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical) for The Lion in Winter
1985 Best Original Score for Out of Africa
1990 Best Original Score for Dances with Wolves
Academy Award nominations
1971 Best Original Dramatic Score for Mary, Queen of Scots
1992 Best Original Score for Chaplin
1969 Best Instrumental Theme for Midnight Cowboy
1985 Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band for The Cotton Club
1986 Best Instrumental Composition for Out of Africa
1991 Best Instrumental Composition Written For A Motion Picture Or For Television for Dances with Wolves
1968 Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music for The Lion in Winter
BAFTA Fellowship Award
1986 Best Score for Out of Africa
1991 Best Original Score for Dances with Wolves
Emmy Award nominations
1964 Outstanding Achievement in Composing Original Music for Television for Elizabeth Taylor in London (a 1963 television special)
1977 Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Special (Dramatic Underscore) for Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years
Max Steiner Lifetime Achievement Award (presented by the City of Vienna)
Lifetime Achievement Award from World Soundtrack Academy (presented at the Ghent Film Festival)
Barry was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1998.
The American Film Institute ranked Barry’s score for Out of Africa #15 on their list of the greatest film scores. His scores for the following films were also nominated:
Body Heat (1981)
Born Free (1966)
Dances with Wolves (1990)
The Lion in Winter (1968)
Somewhere in Time (1980)
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