Daniel Robert Elfman, also known by his stage name “Danny” Elfman, is an American Composer, Producer, and Actor. He is famous for composing some of the most familiar tunes in American cinema, including main titles themes for highly popular shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Desperate Housewives”, and also the score of the 1989 Tim Burton Batman Movie.
Danny Elfman was born in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles, California on May 29, 1953. Elfman spent much of his time at his local music theatre, there, unlike most people; he paid a ridiculous amount of attention to film scores. In high school he started a Ska band, and soon he followed his brother Richard to France, where he performed with an Avant-Garde musical theatre group called the “Le Grand Magic Circus”. Elfman went on to study numerous musical styles in Ghana and Mali, particularly the highlife genre of Ghana. Elfman then returned to the United States where he unofficially studied music at the California Institute of the Arts.
In 1972, Elfman’s brother, Richard, formed a musical theatre band called “The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo”. The troupe had most of its members wearing clown makeup during its performances, which employed as many as fifteen musicians at a time. In 1974, Richard’s interest in film-making grew, and he eventually passed on the band’s leadership to Danny. In 1976 the band would gain a huge following after a victory in a game show episode of “The Gong Show”. In 1980, Richard made a film based on the band’s performances which he titled “Forbidden Zone”. Interestingly, Danny was cast as “Satan” in the film and the rest of his band members were cast as his minions. “Forbidden Zone” achieved cult status in the United States and it helped propel the careers of both Richard and Danny. The band, despite being a musical theatre group, released plenty of records including eight studio albums and ten live albums. The 1985 record “Dead Man’s Party” was ultimately certified gold. The band dissolved in 1995 after a brief farewell tour.
Elfman was truly successful when it came to writing film scores. In 1985, he was invited by legendary director Tim Burton to write the score for “Pee-wee’s Adventure”. Elfman delivered the score, while partly drawing assistance from his Oingo Boingo band member Steve Bartek. Burton was so enthralled by Elfman’s score that he invited Elfman to write the score for all but two of his movies. Perhaps Elfman’s most popular work for Burton was his score for Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. Elfman’s score for Batman went on to win a Grammy for “Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture”. Other popular works by Elfman for Burton included scores for “Sleepy Hollow”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Planet of The Apes”, and “Alice in Wonderland”.
Elfman has been highly decorated for his works. His soundtrack for the highly famous film “Men in Black” received both an Academy Award Nomination and a Grammy Award Nomination. His three other Academy Award Nominations were for the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting”, the 2003 Tim Burton Movie “Big Fish”, and for the 2008 movie “Milk”. He was also nominated for the Grammy Award a total of eleven times, for which he won once.
Danny Elfman is currently writing the soundtracks for Sam Taylor-Wood’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees”.