Englishman John Barry is one of the most famed film composers of the 20th century. His work is prominent in several celebrated Hollywood movies and has been appreciated by some of the most prestigious awards. Initially a fine musician and later on a composer, John Barry was immersed in to several genres such as classical music but is most famously known for his tact in jazz, pop/rock, R&B and of course compositions for screenplays.
Born in York, England on November 3, 1933, Barry’s musical aspirations were rooted well within his family. His interest in music and films sparked due to the time he spent as a child at the cinema where his father worked. He is also known to have begun his musical journey as a fine pianist, inspired by his mother. However, as his teenage years approached, Barry became fascinated by a new instrument, the trumpet. He quit school at the young age of 15 to accompany his father to the cinema, surrounded by some of the most legendary Hollywood movies. He soon realized the influence and power of music and was especially inspired by the movie ‘A Song To Remember’ which was based on life of Frédéric Chopin.
He embellished his trumpet playing skills by performing with dance and local jazz bands during his teens. At 18, when he was required to join the British Army for his national service, he carried forward his passion for the trumpet and luckily got assigned to a musical unit and went on playing in an army band. After his two years of service, Barry’s interest slowly shifted towards composing music, he even took a course with jazz composer, Bill Russo and also worked for Ted Heath’s Orchestra as an arranger. His fame in the mainstream music industry began after he formed his band ‘John Barry & the Seven’ in 1957. Following a few live performances, the band made several appearances on ‘The Six-Five Special’, a well-known British TV music showcase. The TV show and the rock and roll hype of that time, led Barry to the steps of success; He composed a theme tune for a program on BBC named ‘Juke Box Jury’ and soon began composing music for films like ‘Beat Girl’, ‘Never Let Go’ and the ‘The Amorous Prawn’. He took up several projects that enhanced and made prominent his exceptional compositional skills, such as his album ‘Stringbeat’, an excellent contribution to pop/rock and instrumental music.
Barry reached the most famed moment of his career in 1962, a moment that lasted around 25 years, when he was approached to arrange a title song by the producers of ‘Dr. No’. This was only the first of his contributions to the James Bond movies, he went on to compose unforgettable soundtracks for eleven more, including the very famous ‘From Russia With Love’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘Octopussy’. His work is known in several other productions as well such as ‘Midnight Cowboy’ for which he is known as the first person to employ synthesizers in a film score. Barry was nominated for countless awards and won several prestigious ones for his work; five Academy awards, one Golden Globe Award and two BAFTA awards for various of his pieces in movies such as ‘Born Free’ and ‘Out of Africa’.
John Barry passed away on January 30, 2011, in Oyster Bay, New York and is revered till today for several things over the span of his life; beginning with his skills as a musician and singer and then moving on to those as a brilliant and innovative composer who has left an indelible mark on the music industry and on jazz and pop/rock genres.