Burt Bacharach was born on May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, Missouri. Starting in the 1950s, he found success as a songwriter, eventually working with Hal David to write a slew of hits for vocalist Dionne Warwick during the following decade. Known for creating tunes with gorgeous melodies, Bacharach wrote the popular Broadway musical Promises, Promises and worked on movie theme songs and scores, winning two Oscars for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Bacharach has also received six Grammys and, as a huge pop chart presence, seen his songs remade and sampled across a variety of genres.
Background and Early Career
Burt Bacharach was born on May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, Missouri, but was raised in New York City by artist/songwriter Irma Freeman and columnist Bert Bacharach. Initially encouraged by his mother, the young Bacharach studied music at the Mannes School of Music and McGill University, among other venues. After a stint in the U.S. Army—during which time he played piano and arranged music for a dance band—he embarked upon a career as a songwriter at the end of the 1950s.
Bacharach worked in the famous Brill Building, where numerous songwriters cranked out hits. There, Bacharach wrote the music for Perry Como's "Magic Moments" as well as "The Story of My Life" for Marty Robbins. He worked on those songs with lyricist Hal David, who would become Bacharach's full-time partner in just a few years.
Legion of Dionne Warwick Hits
Bacharach served as Marlene Dietrich's accompanist from 1958 to 1964, traveling with her on tour. The legendary actress and performer came to adore the burgeoning songwriter. Though the two had markedly different personas, Bacharach also began to work regularly with David in the early 1960s. Around this time Bacharach heard backup singer Dionne Warwick perform with soul group the Drifters. He was impressed by her talent and Warwick was soon interpreting many of the pair's songs.
Between 1962 and 1968, Warwick took a whopping 15 Bacharach/David songs into the Top 40. Their collaborations included "Don't Make Me Over," "Anyone Who Had a Heart," "Reach Out for Me," "I Say a Little Prayer" (later made famous as well by Aretha Franklin), "Message to Michael," "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?," "You'll Never Get to Heaven," "Walk on By," "Trains and Boats and Planes" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
Bacharach and David next branched out into film, writing the theme songs for What's New Pussycat? (performed by Tom Jones, amidst five out-of-sync pianos) and Alfie (by Cilla Black and later Warwick), with both title tracks receiving Academy Award nominations. Bacharach and David received their third Oscar nod for the sultry "The Look of Love," as sung by Dusty Springfield for the cinematic spoof Casino Royale (1967).
Then in 1968, Bacharach received a Grammy for his instrumental arrangements on Alfie. The score for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) earned Bacharach another Grammy as well as an Oscar. With David, Bacharach also won a second Oscar for the film's easygoing theme song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," as performed by B.J. Thomas.
Broadway Success: 'Promises, Promises'
In addition to film work and hit songs, Bacharach and David wrote a 1968 musical: Promises, Promises, with the show's book written by Neil Simon. Based on the Oscar-winning Billy Wilder film The Apartment (1960), Promises, Promises starred Jerry Orbach and Jill O'Hara and became a long-running Broadway success nominated for eight Tonys, winning two. The related album also received a Grammy.
Helping to define what would become popularly labeled as "lite" music, Bacharach established an enduring sound known for its complex time signatures, lush textures and affable, tender charms. Melody lines seem to come alive and float in the songwriter's world, with the flugelhorn often appearing prominently. In 1968, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts with a song that arguably epitomized Bacharach's style—"This Guy's in Love With You." Then in 1970, the Carpenters had a U.S. chart-topper with another trademark Bacharach/David tune, "(They Long to Be) Close to You," the same year that the 5th Dimension reached No. 2 with the broken-heart song "One Less Bell to Answer." Along with his continued success as a songwriter, Bacharach released his own album, Burt Bacharach (1971), which sold well. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.
After Comeback, More No. 1's and Awards
Yet Bacharach's success dimmed significantly as the 1970s progressed. Following a disagreement about royalties for Lost Horizon, a 1973 science-fiction movie musical starring Peter Finch that bombed at the box office, Bacharach ended his partnership with David. He also backed out of producing a Warwick album, with litigation among various parties ensuing and relationships deeply frayed for years. Bacharach's album releases on Alpert's A&M label also didn't fare well.
Though his collaboration with David was over, Bacharach eventually found success with different songwriting partners. In 1982, he won his third Academy Award for "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," as performed and co-written by Christopher Cross for the 1981 film Arthur, with additional writing contributions from Peter Allen and Bacharach's third wife Carol Bayer Sager.
Bacharach also co-wrote with Sager "That's What Friends Are For," a No. 1 success that raised money for AIDS research and featured the talents of Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, earning Bacharach a fourth Grammy in 1987 as well. And he worked with Sager on Neil Diamond's "Heartlight" and "On My Own," a sorrowful No. 1 duet featuring Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald. Plus Bacharach ultimately reunited with David when the two wrote a new song for Warwick, "Sunny Weather Lover," for her 1993 album Friends Can Be Lovers.
Remakes and Reinterpretations
Bacharach has ultimately written dozens upon dozens of hits that have appeared in the top 40 in both the U.S. and U.K. Over time, classic Bacharach tunes (some of which wouldn't jibe with more progressive notions around gender and romance) have been remade across a range of genres.
Isaac Hayes turned Warwick's "Walk on By" into a smoldering, 12-minute tour de force, with his version eventually sampled by Beyoncé for her 2016 album Lemonade. "Always There to Remind Me" became a top 10 synth-pop hit for British group Naked Eyes in 1983 while the Pretenders later covered "Windows of the World" for the soundtrack to the film 1969. "Don't Make Me Over" and "Walk on By," famed for Warwick's slow-paced renditions, were turned into more uptempo, top 5 r&b jams for singer Sybil going into the 1990s. An instrumental version of "I Say a Little Prayer" was also sampled by U.K. soulster Omar on his tune "Syleste" from Best by Far (2001). And later, Dionne Farris, known for her top 5 hit "I Know," worked on the 2014 album Dionne Dionne with musician Charlie Hunter, featuring acoustic covers of Warwick, Bacharach and David tunes.
Appearing with Mike Myers in the '60s-influenced Austin Powers (1997) introduced Bacharach and his music to a new audience. Bacharach has also collaborated multiple times with fellow singer/songwriter Elvis Costello; together they won a Grammy for "I Still Have That Other Girl." Costello worked on Bacharach's album At This Time (2005), which also featured contributions from Dr. Dre and Rufus Wainwright. The instrumental album won Bacharach his sixth Grammy.
The music of Bacharach returned to Broadway in the new millennium. He and David saw their tunes featured in the short-lived musical revue The Look of Love in 2003, while Bacharach contributed music to The Boy From Oz, which premiered the same year and starred Hugh Jackman. A revival of Promises, Promises later hit the stage in 2010, with the new version starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. Then in 2012, President Barack Obama presented Bacharach the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.
Known for being both a playboy and perfectionist, Bacharach has been married four times, with the songwriter stating that his work generally took precedence over his relationships. His first wife was actress Paula Stewart, with Bacharach's own mother warning Stewart against the union. He next wed actress Angie Dickinson in 1965, who had helped Bacharach secure the project What's New Pussycat?, with the two divorcing in 1980. His third marriage was to fellow songwriter Carol Bayer Sager, from 1981-91. Then in 1993 Bacharach wed ski instructor Jane Hanson, for whom he had left Sager.
With Dickinson, Bacharach had a daughter, Nikki. Born several months premature, she suffered from developmental problems and was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome later in her life. Nikki committed suicide when she was 40. Bacharach shared some of the pain surrounding her death in his autobiography, Anyone Who Had a Heart: My Life and Music (2013), with Dickinson providing a different perspective on the family trauma as well. He has three other children: a son Cristopher from his marriage with Sayer and a son Oliver and daughter Raleigh from his fourth marriage.
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