Music Articles


You're likely to recognize some of the film scores that made John Barry famous: "Born Free," "A Lion in Winter," "Midnight Cowboy" and a lot of James Bond movies. The Oscar-winning composer died yesterday.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: In the 1966 movie "Born Free," a woman raises a lion cub and then teaches it to re-enter the wild. John Barry's sweeping score was just as poignant as the story.

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BLAIR: John Barry was almost destined to write soundtracks. He was born in York, England. His mother was a classically trained pianist, and his father owned movie theaters. When he was a teenager, Barry quit school and went to work in one of the projection booths. He studied piano, and he was a big jazz fan. In the mid-1950s, he put together a group called The John Barry Seven.

But it's his work writing seductive, sometimes unnerving music for 007 that really made him famous.

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BLAIR: In 2004, John Barry WHYY's FRESH AIR that when he was writing the soundtrack for "Goldfinger," he tried to imagine himself in the movie theater.

Mr. JOHN BARRY (Composer): Like when I used to go to my father's cinema and sit in the front row on a Saturday afternoon and get absolutely thrilled by what was going up there. I tried to put myself into that area.

BLAIR: John Barry wrote music for 11 Bond films. It started in the early 1960s, when he was asked to rework music for "Dr. No," including that iconic theme.

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BLAIR: For years, John Barry and composer Monty Norman battled in court over who created James Bond's signature theme. Norman won.

John Barry's range was enormous. He drew from Gregorian chant for "A Lion in Winter," bluesy harmonica for "Midnight Cowboy," and he used soaring orchestral music in "Out of Africa." As one director put it, John Barry brought inimitable magic to each and every score.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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