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Williams, John (I) Biography




biography of Williams, John (I)

Williams, John Towner
8 February 1932, Flushing, Queens, New York City, New York, USA
5' 11 1/2"
As one of the best known, awarded, and financially successful composers in US history, John Williams is as easy to recall as 'John Philip Sousa (I)' (qv), 'Aaron Copland' (qv) or 'Leonard Bernstein' (qv), illustrating why he is "America's composer" time and again. With a massive list of awards that includes over 41 Oscar nominations (five wins), twenty-odd Gold and Platinum Records, and a slew of Emmy (two wins), Golden Globe (three wins), Grammy (18 wins), National Board of Review (including a Career Achievement Award), Saturn (six wins), and BAFTA (seven wins) citations, along with honorary doctorate degrees numbering in the teens, Williams is undoubtedly one of the most respected composers for Cinema. He's led countless national and international orchestras, most notably as the nineteenth conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980-1993, helming three Pops tours of the US and Japan during his tenure. He currently serves as the Pop's Conductor Laureate. Also to his credit is a parallel career as an author of serious, and some not-so-serious, concert works - performed by the likes of 'Mstislav Rostropovich' (qv), 'André Previn' (qv), 'Itzhak Perlman' (qv), 'Yo-Yo Ma' (qv), 'Gil Shaham' (qv), 'Leonard Slatkin' (qv), 'James Ingram (I)' (qv), Dale Clevenger, and 'Joshua Bell (I)' (qv). Of particular interests are his Essay for Strings, a jazzy Prelude & Fugue, the multimedia presentation American Journey (aka The Unfinished Journey (1999)), a Sinfonietta for Winds, a song cycle featuring poems by 'Rita Dove' (qv), concerti for flute, violin, clarinet, trumpet, tuba, cello, bassoon and horn, fanfares for the 1984, 1988 and 1996 Summer Olympics, the 2002 Winter Olympics, and a song co-written with 'Alan Bergman' (qv) and 'Marilyn Bergman' (qv) for the Special Olympics! But such a list probably warrants a more detailed background... Born in Long Island, New York on February 8, 1932, John Towner Williams discovered music almost immediately, due in no small measure to being the son of a percussionist for CBS Radio and the Raymond Scott Quintet. After moving to Los Angeles in 1948, the young pianist and leader of his own jazz band started experimenting with arranging tunes; at age 15, he determined he was going to become a concert pianist; at 19, he premiered his first original composition, a piano sonata. He attended both UCLA and the Los Angeles City College, studying orchestration under MGM musical associate 'Robert Van Eps' (qv) and being privately tutored by composer 'Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco' (qv), until conducting for the first time during three years with the U.S. Air Force. His return to the states brought him to Julliard, where renowned piano pedagogue Madame Rosina Lhevinne helped Williams hone his performance skills. He played in jazz clubs to pay his way; still, she encouraged him to focus on composing. So it was back to L.A., with the future maestro ready to break into the Hollywood scene. Williams found work with the Hollywood studios as a piano player, eventually accompanying such fare such as the TV series _"Peter Gunn" (1958)_ (qv), _South Pacific (1958)_ (qv), _Some Like It Hot (1959)_ (qv), _The Apartment (1960)_ (qv), and _To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)_ (qv), as well as forming a surprising friendship with 'Bernard Herrmann (I)' (qv). At age 24, "Johnny Williams" became a staff arranger at Columbia and then at 20th Century-Fox, orchestrating for 'Alfred Newman' (qv) and 'Lionel Newman' (qv), 'Dimitri Tiomkin' (qv), 'Franz Waxman' (qv), and other Golden Age notables. In the field of popular music, he performed and arranged for the likes of 'Vic Damone' (qv), 'Doris Day (I)' (qv), and 'Mahalia Jackson' (qv)... all while courting actress/singer 'Barbara Ruick' (qv), who became his wife until her death in 1974. John & Barbara had three children; their daughter is now a doctor, and their two sons, 'Joseph Williams (I)' (qv) and Mark Towner Williams, are rock musicians. The orchestrating gigs led to serious composing jobs for television, notably _"Alcoa Premiere" (1961)_ (qv), _"Checkmate" (1960)_ (qv), _"Gilligan's Island" (1964)_ (qv), _"Lost in Space" (1965)_ (qv), _"Land of the Giants" (1968)_ (qv), and his Emmy-winning scores for _Heidi (1968) (TV)_ (qv) and _Jane Eyre (1970) (TV)_ (qv). _Daddy-O (1958)_ (qv) and _Because They're Young (1960)_ (qv) brought his original music to the big theatres, but he was soon typecast doing comedies. His efforts in the genre helped guarantee his work on 'William Wyler' (qv)'s _How to Steal a Million (1966)_ (qv), however, a major picture that immediately led to larger projects. Of course, his arrangements continued to garner attention, and he won his first Oscar for adapting _Fiddler on the Roof (1971)_ (qv). During the '70s, he was King of Disaster Scores with _The Poseidon Adventure (1972)_ (qv), _Earthquake (1974)_ (qv) and _The Towering Inferno (1974)_ (qv). His psychological score for _Images (1972)_ (qv) remains one of the most innovative works in soundtrack history. But his Americana - particularly _The Reivers (1969)_ (qv) - is what caught the ear of director 'Steven Spielberg' (qv), then preparing for his first feature, _The Sugarland Express (1974)_ (qv). When Spielberg reunited with Williams on _Jaws (1975)_ (qv), they established themselves as a blockbuster team, the composer gained his first Academy Award for Original Score, and Spielberg promptly recommended Williams to a friend, 'George Lucas (I)' (qv). In 1977, John Williams re-popularized the epic cinema sound of 'Erich Wolfgang Korngold' (qv), 'Franz Waxman' (qv) and other composers from the Hollywood Golden Age: _Star Wars (1977)_ (qv) became the best selling score-only soundtrack of all time, and spawned countless musical imitators. For the next five years, though the music in Hollywood changed, John Williams wrote big, brassy scores for big, brassy films - _The Fury (1978)_ (qv), _Superman (1978)_ (qv), _1941 (1979)_ (qv), _Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)_ (qv) ... An experiment during this period, _Heartbeeps (1981)_ (qv), flopped. There was a long-term change of pace, nonetheless, as Williams fell in love with an interior designer and married once more. _E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)_ (qv) brought about his third Oscar, and _The River (1984)_ (qv), _Empire of the Sun (1987)_ (qv), _The Accidental Tourist (1988)_ (qv) and _Born on the Fourth of July (1989)_ (qv) added variety to the 1980s, as he returned to television with work on _"Amazing Stories" (1985)_ (qv) and themes for NBC, including _"NBC Nightly News" (1970)_ (qv). The '80s also brought the only exceptions to the composer's collaboration with 'Steven Spielberg' (qv) - others scored both Spielberg's segment of _Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)_ (qv) and _The Color Purple (1985)_ (qv). Intending to retire, the composer's output became sporadic during the 1990s, particularly after the exciting _Jurassic Park (1993)_ (qv) and the masterful, Oscar-winning _Schindler's List (1993)_ (qv). This lighter workload, coupled with a number of hilarious references on _"The Simpsons" (1989)_ (qv) actually seemed to renew interest in his music. Two Home Alone films (1990, 1992), _JFK (1991)_ (qv), _Nixon (1995)_ (qv), _Sleepers (1996)_ (qv), _Seven Years in Tibet (1997)_ (qv), _Saving Private Ryan (1998)_ (qv), _Angela's Ashes (1999)_ (qv), and a return to familiar territory with _Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)_ (qv) recalled his creative diversity of the '70s. In this millennium, the artist shows no interest in slowing down. His relationships with Spielberg and Lucas continue in _Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)_ (qv), the remaining Star Wars prequels (2002, 2005), _Minority Report (2002)_ (qv), _Catch Me If You Can (2002)_ (qv), and a promised fourth Indiana Jones film. There is a more focused effort on concert works, as well, including a theme for the new 'Walt Disney' (qv) Concert Hall and a rumored light opera. But one certain highlight is his musical magic for the world of Harry Potter (2001, 2002, 2004, etc.), which he also arranged into a concert suite geared toward teaching children about the symphony orchestra. His music remains on the whistling lips of people around the globe, in the concert halls, on the promenades, in album collections, sports arenas, and parades, and, this writer hopes, touching some place in ourselves. So keep those ears ready wherever you go, 'cause you will likely hear a bit of John Williams on your way.
Jeffrey Wheeler (webmaster@jeffreywheeler.cjb.net)



-   'Samantha Winslow' (21 July 1980 - present)

-   'Barbara Ruick' (qv) (15 April 1956 - 3 March 1974) (her death); 3 children


-   Thundering theme pieces for major science fiction and fantasy films

-   Extensive use of leitmotifs in scores

-   Often scores the films of 'Steven Spielberg' (qv)

-   Known as the composer of some of the most recognizable themes in the history of film


-   Conductor of the Boston Pops for 12 years.

-   Composed for all but two of 'Steven Spielberg' (qv)'s feature films.

-   Composed his first symphony at the urging of fellow film composer 'Bernard Herrmann (I)' (qv).

-   Performed the famous piano riff on the original recording of 'Henry Mancini' (qv)'s theme to _"Peter Gunn" (1958)_ (qv).

-   Father of composer and former 'Toto (XXIII)' (qv) lead singer, 'Joseph Williams (I)' (qv). The two worked together on _Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)_ (qv), collaborating on the song performed by the alien band in Jabba's Palace. However, the song was replaced for the Special Edition.

-   Worked extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra

-   Son of jazz musician 'Johnny Williams (II)' (qv), who was best known as the drummer in The 'Raymond Scott (I)' (qv) Quintette.

-   2002 distinguished him as the most Oscar-nominated living individual, with an astounding 41 nominations. In 2003 his total increased to 42, after receiving a nomination for _Catch Me If You Can (2002)_ (qv). In 2004, he received his 43rd nomination, for _Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)_ (qv).

-   In 2006, he tied 'Alfred Newman' (qv) for the most number of Oscar nominations (45) received by a composer-conductor, when he was nominated for "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Munich".

-   Son-in-law of actors 'Mel Ruick' (qv) and 'Lurene Tuttle' (qv)

-   Is a recipient of the prestigious Connor Award given by the Phi Alpha Tau brotherhood of Emerson College located in Boston, Massachusetts.

-   Composer of the biggest-selling instrumental single of all-time, and the only one to be officially awarded Platinum status - 2 million units by the RIAA, Meco's recording of "Star Wars Theme and Cantina Band". And, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, Meco's "Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk" album also outsold Williams' soundtrack by 300,000 units.

-   (2004) Grand marshal, Tournament of Roses parade

-   Recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004, along with 'Elton John' (qv), 'Joan Sutherland (I)' (qv), 'Warren Beatty (I)' (qv), and 'Ossie Davis' (qv) and 'Ruby Dee (I)' (qv).

-   Attended UCLA, Los Angeles City College & Juilliard

-   Composed the score to 'Alfred Hitchcock (I)' (qv)'s final film.

-   Honorary Member of Kappa Kappa Psi National Honrary Band Fraternity. Member of Boston University Chapter Theta Beta, Brother # 93, Nickname: "Pops"

-   Passed on scoring _Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)_ (qv), in favor of _Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)_ (qv).

-   Frequently works with 'Steven Spielberg' (qv), 'George Lucas (I)' (qv) and 'Chris Columbus' (qv).

-   Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1998.

-   During a live orchestral concert of film music in late 2004, Williams presented a tribute to the late 'Jerry Goldsmith' (qv), 'David Raksin' (qv), and 'Elmer Bernstein' (qv), explaining how he played piano on some of their scores at the beginning of his career. He joked "They were my former employers - I must have been something like 12 when I played for them.".

-   In 2005, his scores for _Star Wars (1977)_ (qv), _Jaws (1975)_ (qv), and _E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)_ (qv) were respectively ranked #1, #6, and #14 on the AFI's list of the Top 25 Film Scores in the past 100 years.

-   Composed the "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" for the 1984 Olympic Games, which were held in Los Angeles and was awarded a Grammy in 1985.

-   He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts on February 25, 2010 at the White House in Washington D.C. for his services and contributions to music.

-   He's an admirer of Japanese animation composer 'Yôko Kanno' (qv).

-   Was nominated for Film Composer of the Year in 2004 and 2011 by the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA). He won in 2011.

-   In 2012, he surpassed 'Alfred Newman' (qv) as the most nominated composer in Oscar history with 42 nominations for Best Original Score when his scores for _The Adventures of Tintin (2011)_ (qv) and _War Horse (2011)_ (qv) were nominated for the award.


-   Composer and conductor of the theme "Summon the Heroes" for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA. Performed during the opening ceremony.

-   Director of the Boston Pops Orchestra from January 1980 to 1995.

-   Composed music for tag of DreamWorks SKG, co-founded by frequent collaborator 'Steven Spielberg' (qv).

-   Composed "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" for the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

-   Composed "The Olympic Spirit" especially for NBC Sports in celebration of the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics.

-   Composed "Call of the Champions" for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

-   Composed extra music for the 20th Anniversary of _E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)_ (qv) and conducted a live orchestra for the premiere.

-   He composed special music for the E.T. ride, called "E.T. Adventure", at Universal Studios.

-   Wrote the foreword for "Greetings, Gate!: The Story of Professor Jerry Colonna" by Bob Colonna.


-   [about his friend, 'Jerry Goldsmith' (qv)] His chameleon adaptability was a prerequisite to longevity and success in Hollywood. We used to call him Gorgeous. He was the golden boy, a beautiful presence. His music had a freshness, and he had a freshness.


-   _Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)_ (qv) -> $100,000


-   "Dreamwatch" (USA), December 2002, Iss. 99, pg. 54-57, by: Marcel Anders, "Icon Interview: John Williams"

-   "Empire" (UK), August 1999, Iss. 122, pg. 81, by: Ian Freer

-   "Star Wars Insider" (USA), June 1999, Iss. 44, pg. 54-58, by: Scott Chernoff, "Score of Force"

-   "Total Film" (UK), September 1997, Iss. 8, pg. 74-79, by: David Thomas


-   "The New York Times" (USA), 24 January 2009, Vol. 158, Iss. 54,565, pg. C3, by: Daniel J. Wakin, "Actually Live Debut Set for Inaugural Composition"

-   "The New York Times" (Iceland), 23 January 2009, Vol. 158, Iss. 54,564, pg. A1 & A17, by: Daniel J. Wakin, "Frigid Fingers Played It Live; Sound on the Mall? Recorded"

-   "The Washington Post" (USA), 5 December 2004, Vol. 127, Iss. 366, pg. N4, by: William Booth, "Shark Attack?! John Williams Liked the Sound of That"

-   "Vox" (Hungary), June 1999, Iss. 26, pg. 86, by: Gábor Szilágyi

-   "Vox" (Hungary), May 1999, Iss. 25, pg. 82, by: Gábor Szilágyi

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