John Towner Williams (born February 8, 1932) is an American composer, conductor and pianist who is considered to be one of the greatest and most successful film composers of all time. Williams was born on February 8, 1932. on Long Island, New York, the son of Esther (née Towner) and Johnny Williams. His father was a jazz percussionist who played with the Raymond Scott Quintet. In 1948, the Williams family moved to Los Angeles where John attended North Hollywood High School graduating in 1950. He later attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and studied privately with the Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the U.S. Air Force, where he conducted and arranged music for The U.S. Air Force Band as part of his assignments.
After his Air Force service ended in 1955, Williams moved to New York City and entered The Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne. During this time, Williams worked as a jazz pianist in New York’s many clubs and eventually studios, most notably for composer Henry Mancini. Williams was married to actress Barbara Ruick from 1956 until her death on March 1, 1974. Williams and Ruick had three children: Jennifer (born 1956), Mark (born 1958), and Joseph (born 1960). John Williams married his second wife, Samantha Winslow, on July 21, 1980.
After his studies at Juilliard, and the Eastman School of Music, Williams returned to Los Angeles, where he began working as an orchestrator at film studios, working with composers Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, and Alfred Newman, and was also a studio pianist, performing on film scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, and Henry Mancini. Working at Universal Studios, Williams shared music credit on a number of films, the most notable being 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. Williams’s first major film composition was for the 1958 B movie Daddy-O, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They’re Young. In addition, often credited as “Johnny Williams,” he composed the music for various TV programs in the 1960s: the pilot episode of Gilligan’s Island, Bachelor Father (1959-1960), the Kraft Suspense Theatre, Lost in Space (1965–68), The Time Tunnel (1966–67), and Land of the Giants.
Williams soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano, and symphonic music. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his film score for 1967’s Valley of the Dolls, and was nominated again for his score for 1969’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips. In 1972, he composed the score for the Robert Altman-directed psychological thriller Images, recorded in collaboration with noted percussionist Stomu Yamashta, which earned him another nomination in the category ‘Best Music, Original Dramatic Score’ at the 1973 Academy Awards. During the early 1970s, Williams’ prominence grew thanks to his work for now–film producer Irwin Allen’s disaster films, composing the scores for 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure and 1974’s The Towering Inferno. In addition, he scored Universal’s 1974 film Earthquake for director Mark Robson, completing a “trinity” of scores for the decade’s highest-grossing “disaster films”. He also wrote a very memorable score for the 1972 film The Cowboys, a western starring John Wayne and directed by Mark Rydell.
In 1974, Williams was approached by director Steven Spielberg to compose the music for his feature directorial debut, The Sugarland Express. The young director had been impressed with Williams’ score for the 1969 film The Reivers, and Spielberg was convinced that Williams could compose the musical sound that he desired for any of his films. They teamed up again a year later for Spielberg’s second film, Jaws which earned Williams his second Academy Award, his first one for an original composition. Williams considers Jaws to be the score that jumpstarted his career. Shortly thereafter, Williams and Spielberg began a long collaboration for their next feature film together, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. During the same period, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious space epic, Star Wars (1977). Williams delivered a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold and won another Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back. The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi. Both scores earned Williams Academy Award nominations.
Williams worked with director Richard Donner to score the 1978 film Superman. For the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, created by Lucas and directed by Spielberg, Williams wrote a rousing main theme. He also composed the scores to the sequel films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Williams composed an emotional and sensitive score to Spielberg’s 1982 fantasy film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Williams was awarded a fourth Academy Award for this score. The Williams-Spielberg collaboration resumed with the director’s 1987 film Empire of the Sun, and has continued to the present, spanning genres from science fiction thrillers (1993’s Jurassic Park), to somber tragedies (1993’s Schindler’s List, 2005), to Eastern-tinged melodramas (2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha), to dramatic war films (1998’s Saving Private Ryan). From 1980 to 1993, Williams succeeded Arthur Fiedler as the Boston Pops Orchestra’s Principal Conductor.
In 1999, George Lucas launched the first of a series of prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy. Williams was asked to score all three films, The Phantom Menace Along, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. In the new millennium, Williams was asked to score the film adaptations of J. K. Rowling’s widely successful book series, Harry Potter. He went on to score the film franchise’s first three installments. During 2008, he also composed music for two documentaries, Warner at War, and A Timeless Call, the latter of which was directed by Steven Spielberg. After a three-year absence from film scoring, Williams composed the scores for Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse in 2011. In 2012, Williams scored Spielberg’s film Lincoln and subsequently received his 48th Academy Award nomination.
In addition to his film scores for which he has won five Academy Awards, three Emmy Awards and five nominations, seven British Academy Film Awards, twenty Grammy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards, Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony, several concertos, other orchestral works, and some chamber music. While skilled in a variety of 20th century compositional idioms, Williams’ most familiar style may be described as a form of neoromanticism, inspired by the late 19th century’s large-scale orchestral music—in the style of Tchaikovsky or Richard Wagner’s compositions that inspired his film music predecessors.
My collection includes the following works by Williams:
The Accidental Tourist: Love Theme, End Credits Music.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Suite.
The Cowboys Overture: Main Title Theme.
Empire of the Sun: Exsultate Justi.
The Empire Strikes Back : three selections.
E.T.: Selections including The Flying Theme, and Adventures on Earth.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Indiana Jones Theme.
Jaws: Main Title Theme, Promenade, The Chase.
The Mission: Theme.
The Olympic Fanfare.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Main Title Theme (Raiders March).
Return of the Jedi: Parade of the Ewoks.
Star Wars: Main theme, Princess Leia, March, and Love Theme.
Superman: Main Title Theme, Love Theme (“Can You Read My Mind”), and March.