On Music: John Williams, Jedi Master of Film Composition, Celebrates His 90th Birthday Today!

(C) 2021 Prospero Classical

Greetings, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in Lithia, Florida, on Tuesday, February 8, 2022. It is a gray, chilly Florida winter day in the Tampa Bay area. Currently, the temperature is 54˚F (12˚C) under cloudy conditions. With humidity at 86% and the wind blowing from the north-northeast at 9 MPH (13 KM/H), the wind chill factor is 54˚F (12˚C). It’s going to be a wet day here; the forecast calls for rain throughout the day. The high will be 57˚F (14˚C). Tonight, scattered showers will persist. The low will be 48˚F (9˚C).

Today is the 90th birthday of my favorite composer, John Towner Williams. He was born in Floral Park, New York, on February 8, 1932, to Johnny Williams – an accomplished percussionist who played in jazz bands, the CBS Radio network, and film music ensembles – and Esther Towner Williams. Before attending such schools as the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Julliard School, studied privately with Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Initially, young Johnny Williams (his nom-de-plume in the early days of his musical career) aspired to become a concert pianist but switched to composition after listening to Van Cliburn and John Browning, two of America’s greatest pianists.

Now, of course, Maestro Williams’ trajectory from the relative obscurity of being a session player in film and television orchestras as a pianist to his current status as the dean of modern film composers is in the record. John Williams is known around the world for his collaboration with Steven Spielberg – he has scored all of Spielberg’s theatrical movies except four – The Color Purple, Bridge of Spies, Ready Player One, and West Side Story[1] – and George Lucas (Williams scored all nine of the Star Wars “Skywalker Saga” films and contributed The Adventures of Han theme to 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story).  

In his seven decades working as a film composer, Maestro Williams has either adapted or composed original music for over 75 films, including:

  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • The Poseidon Adventure
  • Valley of the Dolls
  • The Cowboys
  • The Towering Inferno
  • Earthquake
  • Jaws
  • Midway
  • Superman
  • Monsignor
  • 1941
  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • JFK
  • Nixon
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • Sabrina
  • Lincoln
  • The BFG
  • The Post

And many, many more!

I have been a fan of Maestro Williams’ work – both as a composer and conductor – since I saw the original Star Wars movie back in 1977, although I had seen at least four or five of the movies he had scored before, including director Jack Smight’s 1976 Midway when I did not bother looking at the “Music by…” credits.

(An aside: I have always been cognizant of film music, starting with Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape. When I was a wee lad, scores always grabbed me emotionally, even though, as a kid, I never quite figured out where the music came from or if the characters in the movie heard the music!)

For many of us in the 1977 Star Wars Generation, John Williams has been a major part of the soundtrack of our lives. Although not everyone buys soundtrack albums or “cover” albums of his music, I am one of those that do, so my shelves are full of CDs that proudly state Music Composed and Conducted by John Williams. Maestro Williams entered our lives when we were young and saw Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. either in theaters or on VHS videotape; at 90, he is still enriching the lives of his now adult fans – many of whom are parents or grandparents – with his scores for Lincoln, War Horse, The Post, and the upcoming – and still untitled – fifth Indiana Jones movie.

Happy 90th birthday, Maestro. And thank you for the gift of music you’ve given the world throughout your long, productive, and legendary career.

[1] Williams served as West Side Story’s music consultant, though!

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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