He is one of the most successful film score composers of all time with 47 Academy Award nominations and five wins. He has scored numerous movie and television soundtracks from Land of the Giants to Amazing Stories and Fiddler on the Roof to Lincoln. His music is instantly recognisable and is known throughout the world and, in a career spanning over six decades, he shows no sign of slowing down. Lucky for us…
John Towner Williams was born in New York on February 8th 1932 to Esther and Johnny Williams. In 1948 he and his family moved to Los Angeles where John attended North Hollywood High School, graduating in 1950. He later attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) before being drafted into the U.S. Air Force in 1952. After his service ended in 1955, he moved to New York where he studied at the prestigious Juliard School. During this time he worked as a jazz pianist in New York’s many clubs and eventually studios, most notably for composer Henry Mancini.
After his studies at Juliard and the Eastman School of Music, Wililams returned to Los Angeles where he began working as an orchestrator at film studios. Among other composers, Williams worked with Bernard Herrmann, and Alfred Newman Williams was also a studio pianist, performing on film scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and Henry Mancini. Williams recorded with Henry Mancini the film scores of 1959’s Peter Gunn, 1962’s Days of Wine and Roses, and 1963’s Charade. Williams (often credited as “Johnny Williams” i.e., John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)) also composed the music for various TV programs in the 1960s: The pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island, Bachelor Father (1959-1960), the Kraft Suspense Theatre, Lost in Space (1965–68), The Time Tunnel (1966–67), and Land of the Giants (the last three created by the prolific TV producer, Irwin Allen).
Williams’ first film composition was for the B movie Daddy-O and his first screen credit came two years later on Because They’re Young. He soon began to gain notice in Hollywood for his versatility in jazz and symphonic music. He was nominated for his first Academy Award for Valley of the Dolls (1967) and was nominated again for 1969’s Goodbye Mr. Chips. His breakthrough came in 1971 where he won his first of five Academy Awards for his score to Fiddler on the Roof. Williams grew to prominence in throughout the 1970s thanks to his scores for Irwin Allen’s movies The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno as well as Earthquake for director Mark Robson.
In 1974, Williams was approached by director Steven Spielberg to compose the score for his first feature The Sugarland Express. They teamed up again a year later for Jaws, a score that is widely regarded as a classic of the suspense genre which garnered him his second Academy Award and his first for original composition. Thus began one of Hollywood’s most successful collaborations. Following his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg recommended his friend to George Lucas, who was looking for a composer for his adventurous science fiction epic Star Wars. The film went on to become one of the most successful films of all time, and Williams’ soundtrack won him another Academy Award. Williams would also score the following films in the Star Wars universe, earning more nominations along the way.
In 1978, Williams worked with Richard Donner on Superman, a score that also became one of the most memorable in cinema history before rejoining Spielberg for the Indiana Jones films and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (for which Williams won a fourth Academy Award). His collaboration with Spielberg continued through the eighties and nineties where he won his fifth Academy Award for the sombre score to Schindler’s List, regarded as their masterpiece the film won a further six awards in 1993, including the first for Spielberg as director and producer.
His scores for Spielberg films The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse saw his 46th and 47th Academy Award nominations making him the most nominated musician in history and the second most nominated overall (Walt Disney has the distinction of being the most nominated of all time with 59). His 48th nomination came with Lincoln, Spielberg’s biopic of the US President.
As well as his film and televison scores, Williams has also been comissioned to compose music for NBC news, the Statue of Liberty’s rededication and music for four Olympic Games. He regularly conducts with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and performs concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. In addition to his Academy Award tally, Williams has also won 3 Emmy’s, 4 Golden Globes, 22 Grammy Awards and 7 BAFTA awards. He has been inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. His music is known globally and is among the most famous pieces of music ever known. In 2016 he will be presented with the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, the first time a composer has been given this honour.
Not only is John Williams one of the most successful composers of all time, his music has touched lives and generated feelings and moods. He has inspired us, made us cry and compelled us to think and to listen. But, above all, he has entertained us and continues to do so with yet another big score on the horizon: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it looks like his music will be around for a long time to come.