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John Barry is the legendary movie composer of such Oscar-winning soundtracks as Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, not to mention eleven James Bond scores.
John Barry was one of the all-time great masters of movie music. His career spanned some 50 years - from Midnight Cowboy and Born Free to Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa - taking in 11 James Bond films along the way. The five-times Oscar winner was born in York on 3 November 1933.
The movies and music were in John Barry's blood. He spent his early years working in cinemas in the north of England, owned by his father. Barry's mother was a talented pianist who had abandoned her dream to be a concert artist. The young John wanted to join the family business and become a projectionist, but the combination of film and music made a deep impression on him. He began performing during his National Service in Cyprus, having learned to play the trumpet.
After leaving the army, Barry took a jazz composing course and went on to work as an arranger for the Jack Parnell and Ted Heath Orchestras. He formed The John Barry Seven in 1957. They had a number of hit records including the theme tune Barry composed for TV's Juke Box Jury.
Barry was employed by EMI from 1959 - 1962 arranging for its singers including Adam Faith. He also composed songs and scores for movies starring Faith. His first film was Beat Girl in 1960. 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's success caught the attention of the producers of the James Bond films. He composed and performed the scores for eleven Bond movies. By the time Goldfinger came along, Barry had perfected the 'Bond sound', a heady mixture of brass, jazz and lush melodies. The soundtrack album for Goldfinger knocked the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night off the top of the American charts in 1964, and earned the composer his first gold disc. His last Bond score fwas 1987's The Living Daylights, in which Barry made a cameo appearance as a conductor.
Scoring Bond was the turning point for Barry. He went on to become one of the most celebrated film composers, winning five Academy Awards and four Grammys, with scores for, among others, The Lion in Winter - pictured, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free, and Somewhere in Time.
For Born Free, Barry took the Academy Award for Original Music Score and another for Best Song, which he co-wrote with lyricist Don Black.
Midnight Cowboy was one of the first film to make extensive use of pop artists and songs. John Barry supervised the music and composed the score, winning a Grammy for Best Instrumental Theme. "That movie is still shown at the cinema school at UCLA as the epitome of how songs should be used in the movies," Barry said in 1997. "We only bought in a couple of songs, Everybody's Talkin', sung by Harry Nilsson, and a John Lennon song, and for the rest we got young songwriters to score the scenes with songs. The songs work because they were written for the movie."
Barry composed the theme for the 1971 TV series, The Persuaders! in which Tony Curtis and Roger Moore were paired as wealthy playboys investigating crimes that the police can't solve. Barry's theme which featured Moog synthesizers became a hit single in some European countries.
John Barry also wrote the scores to a number of stage musicals, including the successful West End show Billy which starred Michael Crawford and, like Born Free, had lyrics by Don Black. He also wrote two big Broadway flops, The Little Prince and the Aviator and Lolita, My Love.
Barry won the Best Original Score Oscar and Golden Globe awards in 1985 for Out of Africa. It is the perfect example of a composer managing to capture pictures in sound; it’s music in the key of savannah. In 2005, the American Film Institute ranked Barry's score at no. 15 on their list of the greatest film scores.
John Barry’s sweeping string sounds perfectly suited the epic nature of Dances with Wolves' Sioux-soaked skylines. As well as the main John Dunbar Theme, the Love Theme is eloquent and ever so slightly haunting; while the music used to accompany Two Socks - the wolf - is both shifting and beautiful. The music won a Best Original Score Oscar for Barry in 1991.
In 1998 Barry released The Beyondness of Things, a 'tone poem' unconnected to any film and which he presented as a concert piece. "It's amazing to work without film or without a director or producer," he said. "I love doing films, but it's been refreshing to work with such total freedom." The following year, Barry was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at Buckingham Palace for services to music.
Barry was honoured with a BAFTA Fellowship award at The Orange British Academy Film Awards, held at the Odeon Leicester Square, London, on 12 February 2005.
Following Barry's death in 2011, his Bond soundtrack successor David Arnold said, "Meeting him was like touching the hem of God's frock. Today, everyone is saying the same thing: he was the governor and it's a sad and profound loss." Music producer Mark Ronson wrote, "Goldfinger Diamonds Are Forever View To A Kill ... & Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa, You Only Live Twice etc ... every time John Barry sat down to write a score, he wrote a modern standard."