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Burt Bacharach, 1928-2023

February 9, 2023 Leave a comment Go to comments

Composer Burt Bacharach died on February 9, 2023, at home in Los Angeles after a short illness. He was 94.

Burt Freeman Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in May 1928, but grew up in Queens, New York. He developed a keen interest in jazz as a teenager, after visiting jazz clubs and watching performances by Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. He studied music at McGill University in Montreal, at the Mannes School of Music in New York, and at the Music Academy of the West in California, where his teachers included classical greats like Darius Milhaud and Bohuslav Martinů.

After a stint in the US Army he worked as a pianist at resorts in the Catskill Mountains of New York, before going on to work as an arranger and conductor for legendary actress Marlene Dietrich’s nightclub shows. He met lyricist Hal David in 1957, and they began writing songs together; they scored an immediate hit with “Magic Moments” by Perry Como, which reached number 1 in the charts when Bacharach was just 29 years old.

Over the course of the next decade Bacharach, working with both David and other lyricists such as Bob Hilliard, wrote hit song after hit song, and quickly established himself as one of the leading songwriters in the United States. His music helped define the 1960s pop sound; his most popular records included “Make It Easy on Yourself” for Jerry Butler in 1962, “Only Love Can Break a Heart” for Gene Pitney in 1962, “Anyone Who Had a Heart” for Cilla Black in 1963, “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” for Gene Pitney in 1963, “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me” for Sandie Shaw in 1964, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” for Dusty Springfield in 1964, “Walk on By” for Dionne Warwick in 1964, “Wishin’ and Hopin'” for Dusty Springfield in 1964, “What the World Needs Now Is Love” for Jackie DeShannon in 1965, “What’s New Pussycat?” for Tom Jones in 1965, “I Say a Little Prayer” for Dionne Warwick in 1967, “The Look of Love” for Dusty Springfield in 1967, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” for Dionne Warwick in 1968, “This Guy’s in Love with You” for Herb Alpert in 1968, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” for Bobbie Gentry in 1969, and “Close to You” for The Carpenters in 1970, among many many others. In total, Bacharach wrote seventy-three U.S. and fifty-two UK Top 40 hits.

Bacharach scored his first film, What’s New Pussycat starring Peter Sellers, in 1965, and subsequently enjoyed popular success with songs and scores for Alfie in 1966, the James Bond spoof Casino Royale in 1967, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, the hit comedy Arthur in 1981, and Night Shift in 1982. He received six Oscar nominations during this period, winning the double for Best Song and Best Score in 1969 for Butch Cassidy and its classic main title song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” and winning the Best Song Oscar again in 1981 for the song “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” which he co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen.

In addition to his Oscar wins, Bacharach won an Emmy, two Golden Globes, and six Grammys. His last credited film scores were for the films Isn’t She Great in 2000, and A Boy Called Po in 2016, after which he essentially retired from film music.

Bacharach was married four times – to Paula Stewart from 1953–1958; to actress Angie Dickinson from 1965–1980; to lyricist Carole Bayer Sager from 1982–1991; and to Jane Hansen from 1993 until his death. His daughter with Dickinson, Nikki Bacharach, committed suicide in 2007 after struggling with Asperger syndrome for many years. He also had two other children, Oliver and Raleigh, and an adopted son named Cristopher.

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