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Elton John and music for The Lion King

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Elton Hercules John (born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, March 25, 1947) is an English singer, songwriter, composer, pianist, record producer, and occasional actor who has worked with lyricist Bernie Taupin as his songwriter partner since 1967, and they have collaborated on more than 30 albums to date.  John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on  March 25,1947 in Pinner, Middlesex, the eldest child of Stanley Dwight and only child of Sheila Eileen Harris, and was raised in a council house of his maternal grandparents, in Pinner.  When he was six years old, when family moved to a nearby semi-detached house.  John started playing the piano at the age of three, and within a year, his mother heard him picking out Winifred Atwell’s “The Skater’s Waltz” by ear.  After performing at parties and family gatherings, at the age of seven he took up formal piano lessons. He showed musical aptitude at school, including the ability to compose melodies, and gained some notoriety by playing like Jerry Lee Lewis at school functions. At the age of eleven, he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. According to one of his instructors, John promptly played back a four-page piece by Handel that he heard for the first time.

For the next five years John attended Saturday classes at the Academy in central London, and has stated that he enjoyed playing Chopin and Bach and singing in the choir during Saturday classes.  He was also educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School, and Pinner County Grammar School, until age seventeen, when he left just prior to his A Level examinations to pursue a career in the music industry.  During the last few years he was taking lessons from a private tutor in addition to his classes at the Academy. When John he began to seriously consider a career in music, his father, who served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, tried to steer him toward a more conventional career, such as banking.  Both of John’s parents were musically inclined, his father having been a trumpet player with the Bob Millar Band, a semi-professional big band that played at military dances. The Dwights were keen record buyers, exposing John to the popular singers and musicians of the day, and John remembers being immediately hooked on rock and roll when his mother brought home records by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley in 1956.

When John was 14, his parents divorced. His mother then married a local painter, Fred Farebrother, a caring and supportive stepfather.  They moved into flat No. 1A in an eight-unit apartment building called Frome Court, not far from both previous homes. It was there that John would write the songs that would launch his career as a rock star; he would live there until he had four albums simultaneously in the American Top 40.  At the age of 15, with the help of his mother and stepfather, John became a weekend pianist at a nearby pub, the Northwood Hills Hotel, playing on Thursday to Sunday nights a range of popular standards, including songs by Jim Reeves and Ray Charles, as well as songs he had written himself. A stint with a short-lived group called the Corvettes rounded out his time.  In 1962, John and his friends formed a band called Bluesology. By day, he ran errands for a music publishing company; he divided his nights between solo gigs at a London hotel bar and working with Bluesology.  By the mid-1960s, Bluesology was backing \ American soul and R&B musicians like The Isley Brothers, Major Lance and Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles. In 1966, the band became musician Long John Baldry’s supporting band, and played sixteen times at The Marquee Club.

In 1967, Dwight answered an advertisement in the British magazine, New Musical Express, placed by Ray Williams, then the manager for Liberty Records.  At their first meeting, Williams gave him a stack of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin, who had answered the same ad.  John wrote music for the lyrics, and then mailed it to Taupin, beginning a partnership.  When the two first met in 1967 they recorded what would become the first Elton John/Bernie Taupin song: “Scarecrow”. Six months later Reginald Dwight was going by the name “Elton John” in homage to Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.  The team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin joined Dick James’s DJM Records as staff songwriters in 1968, and over the next two years wrote material for various artists, like Roger Cook and Lulu. In 1969, John provided piano for Roger Hodgson on his first released single, “Mr. Boyd” by Argosy, a quartet that was completed by Caleb Quaye and Nigel Olsson.

Elton John was released in April 1970 on DJM Records/Pye Records in the UK and Uni Records in the US, and established the formula for subsequent albums – gospel-chorded rockers and poignant ballads. The first single from the album, “Border Song”, made into the US Top 100, peaking at Number 92. Backed by ex-Spencer Davis Group drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray, Elton John’s first American concert took place at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in August 1970, and was a success.   John and Taupin then wrote the soundtrack to the obscure film Friends and then the album Madman Across the Water, the latter reaching number eight in the US and producing the hit songs, “Levon”, and the album’s opening track “Tiny Dancer.”  Released in 1972, Honky Château became John’s first US number one album, spending five weeks at the top of the Billboard 200, and began a streak of seven consecutive US number one albums.

The pop album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player came out at the start of 1973, and reached number one in the UK, the US, Australia among others. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, released in October 1973, gained instant critical acclaim and topped the chart on both sides of the Atlantic, remaining at number one for two months.   John formed his own MCA-distributed label named The Rocket Record Company and signed acts to it – notably Neil Sedaka (“Bad Blood”, on which he sang background vocals) and Kiki Dee.   In 1974 MCA released his Greatest Hits album, a UK and US number one which is certified Diamond by the RIAA for sales of 16 million copies in the US.  Also in 1974, a collaboration with John Lennon took place, resulting in Lennon appearing on Elton John’s single cover of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  Caribou was released in 1974 and became John’s third number one in the UK, and topped the charts in the US, Canada and Australia.

Pete Townshend of The Who asked John to play a character called the “Local Lad” in the film of the rock opera Tommy, and to perform the song “Pinball Wizard”. Drawing on power chords, John’s version was recorded and used for the movie release in 1975.  Also in 1975, the autobiographical album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy debuted at number one in the US, the first album ever to do so, and stayed at the top for seven weeks.  In 1976, the live album Here and There was released in May, followed by the Blue Moves album in October, which contained the single “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”. His biggest success in 1976 was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a duet with Kiki Dee that topped both the UK and US charts. In November 1977 Elton John announced he was retiring from performing, and Taupin began collaborating with others. In 1979, John and Taupin reunited, though they did not collaborate on a full album until 1983’s Too Low For Zero.

John’s 1981 album, The Fox, included collaborations with Tom Robinson and Judie Tzuke. In October 1983, Elton John caused controversy when he broke the United Nations’ cultural boycott on apartheid South Africa by performing at the Sun City venue.  He married his close friend and sound engineer, Renate Blauel, on Valentine’s Day 1984 – the marriage lasted three years.  In 1985, he was one of the many performers at Live Aid held at Wembley Stadium. A Biography channel special detailed the loss of Elton’s voice in 1986 while on tour in Australia. Shortly thereafter he underwent throat surgery, which permanently altered his voice.  He placed other hits throughout the 1980s, including “Nikita” which featured in a music video directed by Ken Russell, No. 3 in the UK and No. 7 in the US in 1986, a live orchestral version of “Candle in the Wind”, No. 6 in the US, and “I Don’t Wanna Go on with You Like That”, No. 2 in the US in 1988.

In 1990, John achieved his first solo UK number one hit single, with “Sacrifice” (coupled with “Healing Hands”) from the previous year’s album Sleeping with the Past; it would stay at the top spot for six weeks.   The following year, John’s “Basque” won the Grammy for Best Instrumental, and a guest concert appearance at Wembley Arena which he had made on George Michael’s cover of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” was released as a single and topped the charts in both the UK and the US. At the 1991 Brit Awards in London, Elton John won the award for Best British Male.  In 1992 he released the US number 8 album The One, featuring the hit song “The One.” In April 1992, John appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, performing “The Show Must Go On” with the remaining members of Queen, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses and Queen.  Along with Tim Rice, Elton John wrote the songs for the 1994 Disney animated film The Lion King.  Also in 1994, Elton John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose.

In 1995 John released Made in England (number 3), which featured the single “Believe.”  A compilation album called Love Songs was released in 1996. Early in 1997 he held a 50th birthday party.  In the musical theatre world, in addition to a 1998 adaptation of The Lion King for Broadway, he also composed music for a Disney production of Aida in 1999 with lyricist Tim Rice, for which they received the Tony Award for Best Original Score at the 54th Tony Awards, and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album at the 43rd Grammy Awards.  In 2000, he and Tim Rice teamed again to create songs for DreamWorks’ animated film The Road to El Dorado.  He released his 27th album, Songs from the West Coast, in October 2001.  In August 2003 Elton scored his fifth UK number one single when “Are You Ready for Love” topped the charts. Returning to musical theatre, John composed music for a West End theatre production of Billy Elliot the Musical in 2005 with playwright Lee Hall.  His only theatrical project with Bernie Taupin is Lestat: The Musical, based on the Anne Rice vampire novels. However it received harsh reviews from critics and closed in May 2006 after 39 performances.

In March 2007 John performed at Madison Square Garden for a record breaking 60th time for his 60th birthday.  The concert was broadcast live and a DVD recording was released as Elton 60 – Live at Madison Square Garden.  On July 1, 2007, Elton John appeared at the Concert for Diana held at Wembley Stadium in London, in honor of Diana, Princess of Wales, on what would have been her 46th birthday.  On June 21, 2008, Elton performed his 200th show in Caesars Palace. A DVD/CD package of The Red Piano was released through Best Buy in November 2008. A two-year global Red Piano Tour tour sandwiched between commitments in Las Vegas, NV, which closed in Las Vegas in April 2009. On  June 6, 2010, John performed at the fourth wedding of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh for a reported US$1 million fee.  He released The Union on October 19, 2010. He began his new show The Million Dollar Piano at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas on September 28, 2011.

On February 3, 2012, John visited Costa Rica for the first time when he performed at the recently built National Stadium.  On June 4, 2012, he performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace, performing a repertoire including “Your Song”, “Crocodile Rock” and “I’m Still Standing.”   In February 2013, Elton performed a duet with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran at the 55th Grammy Awards.  Later in 2013 he collaborated with rock band Queens of the Stone Age on their sixth studio album …Like Clockwork, contributing piano and vocals on the song “Fairweather Friends.”  In September 2013, Elton received the first Brits Icon Award for his “lasting impact” on UK Culture. It had been announced in March 2012 that John had completed work on his thirty-first album, The Diving Board. The album was produced by T-Bone Burnett and was originally set for release in autumn 2012.  The album’s release date was pushed back multiple times, but on its release in September 2013 it reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 4 in the US.

The following work by Elton John is contained in my collection:

The Lion King: Symphonic Suite and The Circle of Life

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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