Our Favorite Jews: Burt Bacharach



Missouri born Burt Bacharach, sophisticated Jewish hitmaker of the ‘60s and ‘70s, dies at 94

Did you know Burt Bacharach, the Jewish American composer of popular music, was born in Missouri?  He was. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1928.

Growing up Bacharach wanted to be a professional football player, but while in high school he started his own band and began playing parties and dances.  It’s said he despised his piano lessons, but he kept with it, and was accepted into 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.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Bacharach served in the Army but continued playing music at the officer’s club on Governor Island and various concerts at Fort Dix. It was during this time he met singer Vic Damone, whom he later accompanied at nightclubs and restaurants. Also, while in the army Bacharach performed at nightclubs and restaurants, also playing with the Ames Brothers, Imogene Coca, Polly Bergen, Joel Grey, Georgia Gibbs, Steve Lawrence, and Paula Stewart.

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In 1957 Bacharach’s world would change when 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).  From 1958-1961 Bachrach Bacharach toured Europe 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.”

In the late 1960s, Bacharach and David gave Broadway their attention, producing the musical Promises, Promises, which was based on the film, The Apartment. The show ran for three years and the song title was a hit for Warwick. The show 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 AlfieWhat’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.