Burt Bacharach is a Jewish American composer of popular music.
He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and his mother encouraged him to learn to play the cello, drums, and piano from the age of 12. He despised his piano lessons. Instead of playing the piano professionally, Bacharach wanted to play football professionally.
At Forest Hills High School Bacharach started his own band and played at parties and dances. After graduation he studied at McGill University’s music program in Montreal. At McGill he wrote his first song entitled: “The Night Plane to Heaven.” Later he continued his musical studies at the Mannes School of Music in New York City, studying with composers such as Bohuslav Martinu, Henry Cowell and Darius Milhaud. He was talented enough to receive a scholarship to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.
From 1950-1952, Bacharach served in the Army and played at the officer’s club on Governor Island and various concerts at Fort Dix. While still in the army he met singer Vic Damone, whom Bacharach later accompanied at nightclubs and restaurants. Continuing to perform at nightclubs and restaurants, he also accompanied the Ames Brothers, Imogene Coca, Polly Bergen, Joel Grey, Georgia Gibbs, Steve Lawrence, and Paula Stewart.
By 1957 he met Hal David, the future lyricist for many of his hits including: “The Story of My Life” with Marty Robbins (1957) and “Magic Moments” with Perry Como (1958). Bacharach toured Europe from 1958-1961 as the musical director for Marlene Dietrich and recorded two songs with her in 1961: “Tower of Strength” by Gene McDaniel and “Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles.
He also worked with the Drifters, arranging the different musical accompaniments. Dionne Warwick was then a member of the Drifters backup vocal group, the Gospelaires. Warwick and Bacharach worked together on 39 chart records from 1962-1972. Seven of them became Top 10 hits, including “Walk on By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “You’ll Never Get to Heaven,” “Message to Michael,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”
By the end of the 60’s, Bacharach and David decided to try their hand at a Broadway musical. Promises, Promises was successful enough to run for three years and the song title was a hit for Warwick. Based on the film The Apartment, it earned a Tony and the album earned a Grammy. With the help of his then-wife actress Angie Dickinson (whom he divorced in 1982), Bacharach started composing movie songs. He composed the title song to Alfie, What’s New, Pussycat, Casino Royale, Lost Horizon, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The last movie included the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” a No. 1 hit for B.J. Thomas in 1970. Bacharach received two Oscars and a Grammy for music in the film.
By 1966, Bacharach became a recording artist, producing records of his most popular tunes. A BBC documentary featured him on “Burt Bacharach-- This Is Now” in 1996, which was later shown in the United States. Later that year he performed with Oasis at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Another performance the following year at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom featured his songs sung by Sheryl Crow, Chrissie Hynde, Mike Myers, Barenaked Ladies, Luther Vandross, David Sanborn, George Duke, All Saints, Wynonna, Elvis Costello, Ben Folds Five, and Dionne Warwick.
Bacharach worked with Elvis Costello on “God Give Me Strength” from the movie Grace of My Heart (1995), a project that ultimately resulted in the 1988 record Painted From Memory, a collection of 11 Bacharach-Costello songs. The two men went on a small tour and won a Grammy in 1999.
His song, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (he and Costello worked together on the song), was featured in the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy who Shagged Me. Bacharach also made a cameo appearance in the third Austin Powers film in 2002.
He continues to compose music and perform today.