John Barry (composer)

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John Barry
John Barry at the Royal Albert Hall, London, September 2006
Background information
Birth nameJohn Barry Prendergast
Born(1933-11-03)3 November 1933
York, Yorkshire, England
Died30 January 2011(2011-01-30) (aged 77)
Oyster Bay, New York
GenresFilm score
OccupationsComposer, conductor
Years active1959–2006
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John Barry
John Barry at the Royal Albert Hall, London, September 2006
Background information
Birth nameJohn Barry Prendergast
Born(1933-11-03)3 November 1933
York, Yorkshire, England
Died30 January 2011(2011-01-30) (aged 77)
Oyster Bay, New York
GenresFilm score
OccupationsComposer, conductor
Years active1959–2006

John Barry Prendergast, OBE (/ˈbæri/; 3 November 1933 – 30 January 2011)[1][2] was an English composer and conductor of film music. He composed the soundtracks for 11 of the James Bond films between 1963 and 1987, and also arranged and performed the "James Bond Theme" to the first film in the series, 1962's Dr. No. He wrote the scores to the award winning films Midnight Cowboy, Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa, in a career spanning over 50 years. In 1999 he was appointed OBE at Buckingham Palace for services to music.

Born in York, Barry spent his early years working in cinemas owned by his father. During his national service with the British Army in Cyprus, Barry began performing as a musician after learning to play the trumpet. Upon completing his national service, he formed his own band in 1957, The John Barry Seven. He later developed an interest in composing and arranging music, making his début for television in 1958. He came to the notice of the makers of the first James Bond film Dr. No, who were dissatisfied with a theme for James Bond given to them by Monty Norman. This started a successful association between Barry and Eon Productions which lasted for 25 years.

He received many awards for his work, including five Academy Awards; two for Born Free, and one each for The Lion in Winter (for which he also won the first BAFTA Award for Best Film Music), Dances with Wolves and Out of Africa (both of which also won him Grammy Awards). He also received ten Golden Globe Award nominations, winning once for Best Original Score for Out of Africa in 1986. Barry completed his last film score, Enigma, in 2001 and recorded the successful album Eternal Echoes the same year. He then concentrated chiefly on live performances and co-wrote the music to the musical Brighton Rock in 2004 alongside Don Black. He was made a Fellow of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2005. Barry was married four times and had four children. He moved to the United States in 1975 and lived there for the remainder of his life until his death in 2011.


Early life and family[edit]

Barry was born John Barry Prendergast, in York, England, and was the son of an English mother and an Irish father. His mother was a classical pianist. His father, John Xavier "Jack" Prendergast, from Cork, was a projectionist during the silent film era, who later owned a chain of cinemas across northern England.[3][4][5] As a result of his father's work, Barry was raised in and around cinemas in northern England[3] and he later stated that his childhood background of being brought up in the theatres owned by his father influenced his musical tastes and interests as a result.[4] Barry had three daughters, Sian Prendergast, Kate Barry and Suzy Barry, the latter being the mother of his two granddaughters, Phoebe and Florence Ingleby.


Serving in the British Army, Barry spent his national service playing the trumpet. After his army service, he took a correspondence course (with jazz composer Bill Russo) and working as an arranger for the Jack Parnell and Ted Heath's Orchestra,[6] he formed his own band in 1957, the John Barry Seven,[7] with whom he had some hit records on EMI's Columbia label, including "Hit and Miss", the theme tune he composed for the BBC's Juke Box Jury programme, a cover of the Johnny Smith song "Walk Don't Run" made popular by the Ventures, and a cover of the theme for the United Artists western The Magnificent Seven. By 1959 Barry was gaining commissions to arrange music for other acts, starting with a young trio on Decca, coincidentally called the Three Barry Sisters, though unrelated both to Barry and the more famous Barry Sisters duo in America.[8] The career breakthrough for Barry was the BBC television series Drumbeat, when he appeared with the John Barry Seven. He was employed by EMI from 1959 until 1962 arranging orchestral accompaniment for the company's singers, including Adam Faith; he also composed songs (along with Les Vandyke) and scores for films in which Faith was featured. When Faith made his first film, Beat Girl, in 1960, Barry composed, arranged and conducted the score, his first. His music was later released as the first soundtrack album on LP album in the UK.[9] Barry also composed the music for another Faith film, Never Let Go, orchestrated the score for Mix Me a Person, and composed, arranged and conducted the score for The Amorous Prawn. In 1962, Barry transferred to Ember Records, where he produced albums as well as arranging them.[10]

These achievements caught the attention of the producers of a new film called Dr. No who were dissatisfied with a theme for James Bond given to them by Monty Norman. Barry was hired and the result was one of the most famous signature tunes in film history, the "James Bond Theme". (Credit goes to Monty Norman, see here.) When the producers of the Bond series engaged Lionel Bart to score the next James Bond film From Russia with Love, they discovered that Bart could neither read nor write music. Though Bart wrote a title song for the film, the producers remembered Barry's arrangement of the James Bond Theme and his composing and arranging for several films with Adam Faith. Lionel Bart also recommended Barry to producer Stanley Baker for his film Zulu.[11] Bart and Barry worked together in the film Man in the Middle.

This was the turning point for Barry, and he went on to become one of the most celebrated film composers, winning five Academy Awards and four Grammy Awards, with scores for, among others, The Lion in Winter, Born Free, Somewhere in Time,[2] and Midnight Cowboy (for which he did not receive an on-screen credit).[12]

Barry was often cited as having had a distinct style which concentrated on lush strings and extensive use of brass. However he was also an innovator, being one of the first to employ synthesizers in a film score (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), and to make wide use of pop artists and songs in Midnight Cowboy. Because Barry provided not just the main title theme but the complete soundtrack score, his music often enhanced the critical reception of a film, notably in Midnight Cowboy, the 1976 version of King Kong, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves. Barry would often watch films and would note down with pen and paper what worked or what did not.[5]

Barry composed the theme for the 1971 TV series The Persuaders!, also known as "The Unlucky Heroes", in which Tony Curtis and Roger Moore were paired as rich playboys solving crimes. The score for the series was composed by Ken Thorne. The theme went on to be a hit single in some European countries and has been re-released on collections of 1970s disco hits. The instrumental recording features Moog synthesizers. Barry also wrote the scores to a number of musicals, including Passion Flower Hotel (lyrics by Trevor Peacock), the successful West End show Billy (lyrics by Don Black) and two major Broadway flops, The Little Prince and the Aviator and Lolita, My Love, the latter with Alan Jay Lerner as lyricist.

Barry's work began to be sampled in the 1990s by artists such as Dr. Dre and Wu-Tang Clan, with his "James Bond Theme" being sampled by performers as diverse as Bonobo, Gang Starr and Junior Reid. Fatboy Slim used the opening guitars from "Beat Girl (Main Title)" for "Rockafeller Skank" from his 1998 album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby. The Sneaker Pimps also sampled "Golden Girl" on their 1996 single "6 Underground". Additionally, "You Only Live Twice" was heavily sampled on "Millennium" from Robbie Williams' second album, I've Been Expecting You. Barry was set to compose Thomas and the Magic Railroad but left due to scheduling conflicts.[13]

In 2001, the University of York conferred an honorary degree on Barry, and in 2002 he was named an Honorary Freeman of the City of York.[14][15]

During 2006, Barry was the executive producer on an album entitled Here's to the Heroes by the Australian ensemble The Ten Tenors. The album features a number of songs Barry wrote in collaboration with his lyricist friend, Don Black. Barry and Black also composed one of the songs on Shirley Bassey's 2009 album, The Performance. The song, entitled "Our Time Is Now", is the first written by the duo for Bassey since "Diamonds Are Forever".[16]

James Bond series[edit]

After the success of Dr. No, Barry was hired to compose and perform eleven of the next fourteen James Bond films (Monty Norman is legally recognised as the composer of the "James Bond Theme").[17]

In his tenure with the film series, Barry's music, variously brassy and moody, achieved very wide appeal. For From Russia with Love he composed "007", an alternative James Bond signature theme, which is featured in four other Bond films (Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker). The theme "Stalking", for the teaser sequence of From Russia with Love, was covered by colleague Marvin Hamlisch for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). (The music and lyrics for From Russia with Love's title song were written by Lionel Bart, whose musical theatre credits included Oliver!) Barry also contributed indirectly to the soundtrack of the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale: his Born Free theme appears briefly in the opening sequence.

In Goldfinger, he perfected the "Bond sound", a heady mixture of brass, jazz elements and sensuous melodies. There is even an element of Barry's jazz roots in the big-band track "Into Miami", which follows the title credits and accompanies the film's iconic image of the camera lens zooming toward the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.

Barry's early love for the Russian romantic composers joins the big-band sound of Bond. His use of strings, lyricism, half-diminished chords, and complex key shifting provides melancholy contrast-often heard in variations of the title songs as integrally infused with the plot development.[18]

As Barry matured, the Bond scores became more lushly melodic, as in Moonraker and Octopussy. Barry's score for A View to a Kill was traditional, but his collaboration with Duran Duran for the title song was contemporary and one of the most successful Bond themes to date, reaching number one in the United States and number two in the UK Singles Chart. Both A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights theme by a-ha blended the pop music style of the bands with Barry's orchestration. In 2006, a-ha's Pal Waaktaar complimented Barry's contributions: "I loved the stuff he added to the track, I mean it gave it this really cool string arrangement. That's when for me it started to sound like a Bond thing."[19]

Barry's last score for the Bond series was 1987's The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton's first film in the series with Barry making a cameo appearance as a conductor in the film. Barry was intended to score Licence to Kill but was recovering from throat surgery at the time and it was considered unsafe to fly him to London to complete the score. The score was completed by Michael Kamen.[20]

David Arnold, a British composer, saw the result of two years' work in 1997 with the release of Shaken and Stirred: The David Arnold James Bond Project, an album of new versions of the themes from various James Bond films. Arnold thanks Barry in the sleeve notes, referring to him as "the Guvnor". Almost all of the tracks were John Barry compositions, and the revision of his work met with his approval – he contacted Barbara Broccoli, producer of the then upcoming Tomorrow Never Dies, to recommend Arnold as the film's composer.[21] Arnold also went on to score the subsequent Bond films: The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Sole compositional credit for the "James Bond Theme" is attributed to Monty Norman, who was contracted as composer for Dr. No. Some 30 years later, in 2001, the disputed authorship of the theme was examined legally in the High Court in London after Norman sued The Sunday Times for publishing an article in 1997 in which Barry was named as the true composer; Barry testified for the defence.[22][23]

In court, Barry testified that he had been handed a musical manuscript of a work by Norman (meant to become the theme) and that he was to arrange it musically, and that he composed additional music and arranged the "James Bond Theme". The court was also told that Norman received sole credit because of his prior contract with the producers. Barry said that a deal was struck whereby he would receive a flat fee of £250 and Norman would receive the songwriting credit.[24] Barry said that he had accepted the deal with United Artists Head of Music Noel Rogers because it would help his career. Despite these claims the jury ruled unanimously in favour of Norman.[24]

On 7 September 2006, John Barry publicly defended his authorship of the theme on the Steve Wright show on BBC Radio 2.[25]

Personal life[edit]

Barry was educated at St Peter's School, York, and also received composition lessons from Francis Jackson, Organist of York Minster.[4]

In 1975 Barry moved to California. A British judge later accused him of emigrating to avoid paying £134,000 due the Inland Revenue.[6] The matter was resolved in the late 1980s and Barry was able to return to the UK.[6] He subsequently lived for many years in the United States, mainly in Oyster Bay, New York, in Centre Island on Long Island, from 1980.[4][26]

Barry suffered a rupture of the oesophagus in 1988, following a toxic reaction to a health tonic he had consumed. The incident rendered him unable to work for two years and left him vulnerable to pneumonia.[27]

Barry was married four times. His first three marriages, to Barbara Pickard (1959–63), Jane Birkin (1965–68), and Jane Sidey (1969–78) all ended in divorce.[6] He was married to Laurie from 1978[6] until his death. The couple had a son, Jonpatrick. Barry had three daughters, Suzanne (Susie) with his first wife, Barbara, Kate with his second wife, Jane, and Sian from a relationship with Ulla Larson between the first two marriages.[4]

Barry died of a heart attack on 30 January 2011 at his Oyster Bay home, aged 77.[28][29] He is survived by Laurie, his wife of 33 years, and by his four children and five grandchildren.

A memorial concert took place on 20 June 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall in London where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dame Shirley Bassey, Rumer, David Arnold, Wynne Evans and others performed Barry's music.[30] Sir George Martin, Sir Michael Parkinson, Don Black, Timothy Dalton and others also contributed to the celebration of his life and work.[28][30][31] The event was sponsored by the Royal College of Music through a grant by the Broccoli Foundation.[32] See links to four videos below.

Awards and nominations[edit]

In 1999 Barry was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) at Buckingham Palace for services to music, and received the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award in 2005.[31][33] In 2005, the American Film Institute ranked Barry's score for Out of Africa No. 15 on their list of the greatest film scores. His scores for the following films were also nominated:


Academy Awards1966Born FreeBest Original ScoreWon
"Born Free" (from Born Free)Best Original SongWon
1968The Lion in WinterBest Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical)Won
1971Mary, Queen of ScotsBest Original Dramatic ScoreNominated
1985Out of AfricaBest Original ScoreWon
1990Dances with WolvesBest Original ScoreWon
1992ChaplinBest Original ScoreNominated
BAFTA Awards1968The Lion in WinterAnthony Asquith Award for Film MusicWon
1986Out of AfricaBest Score[34]Nominated
1991Dances with WolvesBest Original Film Score[35]Nominated
2005BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award[36]Won
Golden Globe Awards1966"Born Free" (from Born Free)Best Original SongNominated
1968The Lion in WinterBest Original ScoreNominated
1971Mary, Queen of ScotsBest Original ScoreNominated
1974"Sail the Summer Winds" (from The Dove)Best Original SongNominated
1977"Down Deep Inside" (from The Deep)Best Original SongNominated
1981Somewhere in TimeBest Original ScoreNominated
1985Out of AfricaBest Original ScoreWon
"A View to a Kill" (from A View to a Kill)Best Original SongNominated
1990Dances with WolvesBest Original ScoreNominated
1992ChaplinBest Original ScoreNominated

Grammy Award

Emmy Award nominations

Golden Raspberry Award

Max Steiner Lifetime Achievement Award (presented by the City of Vienna)

Lifetime Achievement Award from World Soundtrack Academy (presented at the Ghent Film Festival)

Barry was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1998.[17]


Bond films[edit]

Barry worked on the soundtracks for the following James Bond films (title song collaborators in brackets):

Other film scores[edit]


Television themes[edit]

Other works[edit]


(Excludes co-composed hits, e.g. Duran Duran's A View to a Kill)

His four highest-charting hits all spent more than 10 weeks in the UK top 50.


  1. ^ The Sunday Times Magazine, The Sunday Times, 18 December 2011, page 64
  2. ^ a b "'James Bond Theme' composer John Barry dies of heart attack". One India. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Film composer Barry dies aged 77". The Irish Times. 31 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Sweeting, Adam (31 January 2011). "John Barry Obituary". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 3 February 2011.  WebCitation archive.
  5. ^ a b Hastings, Sheena (31 January 2011). "John Barry Obituary". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "John Barry". The Daily Telegraph (London). 31 January 2010. . WebCitation archive.
  7. ^ "John Barry The Gstaad Memorandum". Film score monthly. November 1996. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  8. ^ Pete Frame The restless generation: how rock music changed the face of 1950s Britain 0952954079 2007 - Page 414 "Meanwhile, Barry was winning commissions to arrange music for other acts, starting with a young trio on Decca, the unrelated (to him) Barry Sisters. Together, they cut two singles, Tall Paul and Jo Jo The Dog-faced Boy, which had been consecutive American hits for Annette Funicello. Neither excited retail interest - and nor did any of the three singles he made with Larry Page"
  9. ^ p.147 Firth, Simon Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop' Routledge, 1988
  10. ^ Cody, Joshua (3 November 1933). "The Ensemble Sospeso – John Barry". Retrieved 2 February 2011. 
  11. ^ Hall, Dr Sheldon Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It: The Making of the Epic Movie 2005 Tomahawk Press
  12. ^ "Midnight Cowboy (1969)"., Inc. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "John Barry". Retrieved 31 January 2011. 
  14. ^ "University of York to award nine honorary degrees". University of York. 21 June 2001. 
  15. ^ "Movie music legend John Barry dies aged 77". 1 February 2010. 
  16. ^ Shepherd, Fiona. "Album review: Dame Shirley Bassey". The Scotsman 2 November 2009. WebCitation archive.
  17. ^ a b c "John Barry". London: The Telegraph. 31 January 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  18. ^ Madden, Karl. "The Melancholy Touch: Romantic Shades of John Barry's Bond" in James Bond in World and Popular Culture: The Films Are Not Enough. Eds. Robert G. Weiner, B. Lynn Whitfield, and Jack Becker. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 1st Edition 2010, 116–126, 2nd Edition 2011, 121–131. Print.
  19. ^ Waaktaar, Pal (interviewee) (2006). James Bond's Greatest Hits (Television). UK: North One Television. 
  20. ^ "John Barry – The Man with the Midas Touch". 1 February 2011. 
  21. ^ Macnee, Patrick (Narrator). The Bond Sound: The Music of 007 (DVD (Documentary)). 
  22. ^ "Monty Norman v. The Sunday Times: The "James Bond Theme" Lawsuit". The John Barry Resource. Retrieved 24 November 2006. 
  23. ^ Tweedie, Neil. "£30,000 damages for composer of 007 theme tune", The Telegraph, 20 March 2001. WebCitation archive.
  24. ^ a b "Bond theme writer wins damages". 1 February 2010. 
  25. ^ "John Barry on the Bond Theme". 9 September 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2006. 
  26. ^ "Centre Island - Long Island New York - Long Island Exchange". Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  27. ^ "John Barry". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 31 January 2011. 
  28. ^ a b Burlingame, Jon. "John Barry Dies at 77", Variety, 31 January 2011. WebCitation archive.
  29. ^ Lovece, Frank. "John Barry, Oscar-winning Composer, Dies", Newsday, 31 January 2011
  30. ^ a b "Composer John Barry remembered at memorial concert". BBC. 21 June 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  31. ^ a b "Bond composer John Barry dies aged 77". BBC. 31 January 2011. Retrieved 2 February 2011. 
  32. ^ "John Barry: The Memorial Concert". Retrieved 15 April 2011. 
  33. ^ ""James Bond composer John Barry dies at 77"". Mail Online. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  34. ^ "Film Nominations 1986". BAFTA. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  35. ^ "Film Nominations 1991". BAFTA. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  36. ^ "Fellowship Award winners". BAFTA. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  37. ^ a b c d "Past Winners Search – John Barry". Grammy. 1 February 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 
  38. ^ a b "Primetime Emmy Award Database". Emmy. Retrieved 1 February 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Nancy Sinatra
You Only Live Twice, 1967
James Bond title artist
On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969
Succeeded by
Shirley Bassey
Diamonds Are Forever, 1971
Preceded by
Monty Norman
James Bond film score composer
Succeeded by
George Martin
Preceded by
George Martin
James Bond film score composer
Succeeded by
Marvin Hamlisch
Preceded by
Marvin Hamlisch
James Bond film score composer
Succeeded by
Bill Conti
Preceded by
Bill Conti
James Bond film score composer
Succeeded by
Michael Kamen