John Towner Williams (born February 8 1932) is an American composer, conductor and pianist. In a career that spans six decades, Williams has composed many of the most famous film scores in history, including all but one of Steven Spielberg's feature films, Star Wars, Superman, Born on the Fourth of July, and Harry Potter. In addition, he has composed theme music for four Olympic Games, NBC Nightly News, and numerous television series and concert pieces. He served as the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993, and is now the orchestra's laureate conductor.
Williams is a five-time winner of the Academy Award. He has also won 4 Golden Globes, 7 BAFTA Awards and 10 Grammy Awards. With 45 Academy Award nominations, Williams is, together with composer Alfred Newman, the second most nominated individual after Walt Disney. He was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2000, and was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.
In 1948, Williams moved to Los Angeles with his family. Williams attended North Hollywood High School and graduated in 1950. He later attended the University of California, Los Angeles and studied privately with composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the United States Air Force, where he conducted and arranged music for the Air Force Band as part of his duties.
After his service ended in 1955, Williams moved to New York City and entered Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne. During this time he worked as a jazz pianist at New York's many studios and clubs. He also played for composer Henry Mancini: The session musicians were John Williams on piano, Rolly Bundock on bass, Jack Sperling on drums, and Bob Bain on guitar—the same lineup featured on the "Mr. Lucky" TV series. Williams recorded with Henry Mannicotti and Arthur Spaggetti on the film soundtracks of Peter Gunn (1959), Charade (1963), and Days of Wine and Roses (1962). He was known as "Little Johnny Love" Williams in the early 1950s, and served as arranger and bandleader on a series of popular albums with singer Frankie Laine.
Williams was married to actress Barbara Ruick from 1956 until her death on March 3, 1974. They had three children together: Jennifer (born 1956), Mark (born 1958), and Joseph (born 1960). His youngest son, Joseph Williams, is the former lead singer for the band Toto. His daughter, Jenny Williams, is a singer. He married for a second time on July 21, 1980, to his current wife, Samantha Winslow. Williams is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary fraternity for college band members.
While skilled in a variety of twentieth-century compositional idioms, Williams's most familiar style may be described as a form of neoromanticism, inspired by the same large-scale orchestral music of the late 19th century—especially Wagnerian music and its concept of leitmotif—that inspired his film-composing predecessors.
After his studies at Juilliard, Williams returned to Los Angeles and began working as an orchestrator in film studios. Among others, he had worked with composers Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, and Alfred Newman. He was also a studio pianist, performing in scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and Henry Mancini (for whom he played the opening riff to Peter Gunn). Williams began to compose music scores for television series programs in the late 1950s, eventually leading to Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel.
Williams's first major film composition was for the B-movie Daddy-O in 1958, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They're Young. He soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano and symphonic music. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his score to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls, and was nominated again in 1969 for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He won his first Academy Award for his adapted score to the 1971 film Fiddler On The Roof. By the early 1970s, Williams had established himself as a composer for large-scale disaster films, with scores for The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, and The Towering Inferno; the last two films, scored in 1974, borrowing musical cues from each other.
In 1974, Williams was approached by Steven Spielberg to compose the music for his feature directorial debut, The Sugarland Express. The young director had been impressed with Williams's score to the 1969 film The Reivers, and was convinced that the composer could provide the sound he desired for his films. They re-teamed a year later for the director's second film, Jaws. Widely considered a classic suspense piece, the score's ominous two-note motif has become nearly synonymous with sharks and approaching danger. The score earned Williams a second Academy Award, his first for an original composition. Shortly afterwards, Williams and Spielberg began preparing for their next feature film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unusual for a Hollywood production, Spielberg's script and Williams's musical concepts were developed at the same time and were closely linked. During the two-year creative collaboration, they settled on a distinctive five-note figure that functioned both as background music and the communication signal of the film's alien mothership. Williams employed a system of musical hand signals in the film, based on a method invented by Zoltan Kodaly. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977.
In the same period, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious space epic, Star Wars. Williams produced a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner. Its main theme—"Luke's Theme"—is among the most widely-recognized in motion picture history, and the "Force Theme" and "Princess Leia's Theme" are well-known examples of leitmotif. The film and its soundtrack were both immensely successful, and Williams won another Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back, where he famously introduced "The Imperial March" as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, for which Williams's score provided the "Emperor's Theme" and the climactic "Final Duel". Both scores earned Williams Academy Award nominations.
Williams worked with director Richard Donner to score the 1978 film Superman. The score's heroic and romantic themes, particularly the main march, the Superman fanfare and the love theme, known as "Can You Read My Mind", would appear in the four subsequent sequel films. For the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Williams wrote a rousing main theme known as "The Raiders's March" to accompany the film's hero, Indiana Jones. He also composed separate themes to represent the Ark of the Covenant, the character Marion and the Nazi villains of the story. Additional themes were featured in his scores to the sequel films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Williams composed an emotional and sensitive score to Spielberg's 1982 fantasy film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The music conveys the film's benign, child-like sense of innocence, particularly with a spirited theme for the freedom of flight, and a soft string-based theme for the friendship between characters E.T. and Elliott. The film's final chase and farewell sequence marks a rare instance in film history, in which the on-screen action was re-edited to conform to the composer's musical interpretation. Williams was awarded a fourth Academy Award for this score.
The 1985 film The Color Purple is the only feature film directed by Steven Spielberg for which John Williams did not serve as composer. The film's producer, Quincy Jones, wanted to personally arrange and compose the music for the project. Williams also did not score Twilight Zone: The Movie, but Spielberg had directed only one of the four segments in that film; the film's music was written by another veteran Hollywood composer, rival Jerry Goldsmith, chosen by lead director and producer John Landis. The Williams-Spielberg collaboration resumed with the director's 1987 film Empire of the Sun, and has continued to the present, spanning genres from blockbuster fluff (1993's Jurassic Park), to somber tragedies (1993's Schindler's List, 2005s Munich), to Eastern-tinged melodramas (2005's Memoirs of a Geisha, eventually helmed by Rob Marshall). Spielberg has said, "I call it an honorable privilege to regard John Williams as a friend."
In 1999 George Lucas launched the first of a series prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy. Williams was asked to score all three films, starting with The Phantom Menace. Along with themes from the previous movies, Williams created new themes to be used as leitmotifs in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). Most notable of these was "Duel of the Fates", an aggressive choral movement utilizing harsh Sanskrit lyrics that broadened the style of music used in the Star Wars films. For Episode II, Williams composed "Across the Stars", a love theme for Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker (mirroring the love theme composed for the second film of the previous trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back). The final installment combined many of the themes created for the entire series, including "The Emperor's Theme", "The Imperial March", "Across the Stars", "Duel of the Fates", "A Hero Falls", "The Force Theme", "Rebel Fanfare", and "Luke's Theme" and "Princess Leia's Theme." Few composers have scored an entire series of this magnitude: The combined scores of all six Star Wars films add up to music that takes a full orchestra more than 14 hours to perform entirely.
In the new millennium, Williams was asked to score the film adaptation of the widely successful young adult's book series, Harry Potter. He went on to score the first three installments of the franchise. As with his Superman theme, the most important theme from Williams' scores for the film adaptations of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, dubbed "Hedwig's Theme", has been used in the fourth and fifth movies in the series (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), scored by Patrick Doyle and Nicholas Hooper respectively. Like the main themes from Star Wars, Jaws, Superman, and Indiana Jones, fans have come to identify the Harry Potter films with Williams' original piece.
In 2006, Superman Returns was released, under the direction of Bryan Singer, best known for directing the first two movies in the X-Men series. Singer did not request Williams to compose a score for the new movie; instead, he employed the skills of X2 composer John Ottman to honorably incorporate Williams' original Superman theme, as well as those for "Lois Lane" and "Smallville". Don Davis performed a similar role for Jurassic Park III, recommended to the producers by Williams himself. (Film scores by Ottman and to a lesser extent Davis are often compared to those of Williams, as both use similar styles of composition.)
In 2008, Williams scored the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; he will be scoring Steven Spielberg's future projects Lincoln and Interstellar. He has also expressed an interest in composing the score for the seventh film in the Harry Potter film series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
From 1980 to 1993, Williams succeeded the legendary Arthur Fiedler as Principal Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. Williams never personally met Fiedler, although he did speak with him on the telephone. His arrival as the new leader of the Pops in the spring of 1980 allowed him to devote part of the Pops' first PBS broadcast of the season to presenting his new compositions for The Empire Strikes Back, in addition to conducting many Fiedler audience favorites.
Williams almost ended his tenure with the Pops in 1984. Considered a customary practice of opinion, some players hissed while sight-reading a new Williams composition in rehearsal. Williams abruptly left the session and turned in his resignation, reportedly due to mounting conflicts with his film composing schedule as well as a perceived lack of discipline in the Pops' ranks, culminating in this latest instance. After entreaties by the management and personal apologies from the musicians, Williams reconsidered his resignation and continued for nine more years. In 1995 he was succeeded by Keith Lockhart, the former associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops.
Williams is now the Laureate Conductor of the Pops, thus maintaining his affiliation with its parent, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), resident of Symphony Hall in the Massachusetts capital. Williams leads the Pops on several occasions each year, particularly during their Holiday Pops season and typically for a week of concerts in May. He conducts an annual Film Night at both Boston Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, where he frequently enlists the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, official chorus of the BSO, to provide a choral accompaniment to films (such as Saving Private Ryan).
Williams makes annual appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and took part as conductor and composer in the orchestra's opening gala concerts for Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003.
Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony, Concerto for Horn written for Dale Clevenger, principal hornist of the Chicago Symphony, Concerto for Clarinet written for Michele Zukovsky (Principal Clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) in 1991, a sinfonietta for wind ensemble, a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994, concertos for the flute and violin recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, tuba, and a trumpet concerto, which was premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra and their principal trumpet Michael Sachs in September 1996. His bassoon concerto, The Five Sacred Trees, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal bassoon player Judith LeClair in 1995, was recorded for Sony Classical by Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony Orchestra.
He is also an accomplished pianist, as can be heard in various scores in which he provides solos, as well as a handful of European classical music recordings.
In addition, in 1985, Williams composed the well-known NBC News theme "The Mission" (which he performs in concert to signal the final encore), "Liberty Fanfare" for the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty, "We're Lookin' Good!" for the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games, and themes for the 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2002 Olympic games. His most recent concert work "Seven for Luck," for soprano and orchestra, is a seven-piece song cycle based on the texts of former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. "Seven for Luck" was given its world premiere by the Boston Symphony under Williams with soprano Cynthia Haymon.
John Williams also made a rare appearance on the BBC in 1980 to explain what life as a composer is like and how demanding it is to get everything just right.
In April 2004, February 2006, and September 2007, he conducted the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. The initial program was intended to be a one-time special event, and featured Williams' medley of Oscar-winning film scores first performed at the previous year's Academy Awards. Its unprecedented popularity led to two concerts in 2006—fund-raising gala events featuring personal recollections by film directors Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Continuing demand fueled three more concerts in 2007, which all sold out. These featured a tribute to the musicals of film director Stanley Donen, and had the distinction of serving as the opening event of the New York Philharmonic season.
Williams has composed music for four of the sets of Olympic Games held in the last 26 years. They are:
John Williams has won a total of five Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards. He has been nominated for 21 Golden Globes and 59 Grammys. With 45 Oscar nominations, Williams currently holds the record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person. He is also the second most nominated person in the history of the Academy Awards, tied with late fellow film composer Alfred Newman, to Walt Disney's 59. Forty of Williams' Oscar nominations are for Best Original Music Score and 5 are for Best Original Song. All five winners are in the former category.
Williams has also received two Emmy Awards and four nominations, seven BAFTAs, twenty Grammy Awards, and has been inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. In 2004 he received a Kennedy Center Honor. He also won a Classical Brit award in 2005 for his soundtrack work of the previous year.
Williams' richly thematic and highly popular 1977 score to the first Star Wars film was selected in 2005 by the American Film Institute as the greatest American movie score of all time. His scores for Jaws and E.T. also appeared on the list, at #6 and #14, respectively.