Kris Bowers Reflects On Coming 'Full Circle' In Composing The Score For 'Respect' Aretha Franklin liked how Kris Bowers played piano at a competition in 2011. It was his big break — a fact that he says was with him while he scored a upcoming biopic about the late Queen of Soul.
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Kris Bowers Reflects On Coming 'Full Circle' In Composing The Score For 'Respect'

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Kris Bowers Reflects On Coming 'Full Circle' In Composing The Score For 'Respect'

Kris Bowers Reflects On Coming 'Full Circle' In Composing The Score For 'Respect'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Kris Bowers is one of the busiest composers in Hollywood. From "Bridgerton" to films about Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, his music can be heard across screens big and small. As Tim Greiving reports, it all started with a word of praise from the Queen of Soul herself.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: The 31-year-old composer has been tickling the ivories since he was a little kid growing up in Los Angeles. Bowers always loved film music, and he was one of the few Black students at his arts high school. He went to Juilliard, then won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz piano competition. That's when he met Aretha Franklin.

KRIS BOWERS: She came to the semifinals. Somebody was like, would you mind meeting someone? And as I'm getting out there, they're like, by the way, it's Aretha Franklin that wants to meet you. And I was like, OK, that's pretty ridiculous (laughter) and one of the only times I felt speechless in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEONIOUS MONK COMPOSITION)

BOWERS: She told me she enjoyed my playing and asked for my information. And maybe, like, a week or two later, she called me, asked me what my plans were and if I had any ideas about my next steps in my career.

GREIVING: Aretha Franklin's publicist became his first agent and landed him his first film scoring gig. His career took off - a documentary for Kobe Bryant, the series "Dear White People" and the Oscar-winning film "Green Book" - the piano-playing hands in that film are actually his - all before he turned 30.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRIS BOWERS PERFORMANCE OF IRVING BERLIN'S "BLUE SKIES")

GREIVING: Bowers' latest film is "The United States Vs. Billie Holiday," starring Andra Day. In it, there's a dreamlike montage where Holiday revisits a horrible lynching she witnessed as a little girl. The score transformed that moment for Director Lee Daniels.

LEE DANIELS: I had it in my head almost more childlike, but he brought the macabre to it. I thought that the macabre was the cross, the macabre was the kids crying, the macabre was the woman hanging from the tree. And I thought that that was enough. And I told him in the beginning to just try to lean into that childlike Billie. What would a child be like watching this?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, wailing).

(SOUNDBITE OF KRIS BOWERS COMPOSITION)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Vocalizing).

DANIELS: He's not just a composer. He has a sophisticated approach to his work that ordinary composers don't have.

GREIVING: That's partly what drew director Ava DuVernay to Kris Bowers for the miniseries "When They See Us," about the five boys wrongfully imprisoned for a murder in Central Park in 1989.

AVA DUVERNAY: We had deeply personal conversations about the things that we were seeing and the images. And then he also brought a lot of his own feelings of being disconnected from, you know, the approval of the white gaze at different times. And so, you know, all of that made its way into the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRIS BOWERS' "ENEMIES")

GREIVING: DuVernay hired Bowers again to score her upcoming series about Colin Kaepernick. She also produced a short documentary that Bowers co-directed about himself and his grandfather. "A Concerto Is A Conversation" premiered at Sundance last month and made the Academy Awards shortlist.

DUVERNAY: Especially in this pandemic time where everything's so fragile, you know, it just hit my heart.

GREIVING: Bowers has a busy summer. The "Space Jam" sequel starring LeBron James that he scored comes out, so does "Respect," the biopic about the late Aretha Franklin. Bowers says working on it was emotional.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRIS BOWERS COMPOSITION)

BOWERS: I already had a respect for her as an artist. But I think just as a woman and as a human being, I have so much more respect and admiration for her after watching this film.

GREIVING: And Bowers notes how his film scoring career started because Aretha Franklin liked the way he played piano.

For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRIS BOWERS COMPOSITION)

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