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John Cacavas and Star Spangled Spectacular

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John Harry Cacavas (August 13, 1930 – January 28, 2014) was an American composer and conductor probably best known for his television scores, such as Kojak, for which he was the chief composer, providing the show’s third main title theme for its 5th and final season in 1977-1978.  Cacavas was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on August 13, 1930. His father was an immigrant from Greece and his mother was born in North Dakota. He had a fraternal twin sister, Jeanne, and they had numerous siblings: Peter David, b. 1928; Penelope, b. 1932; and Adrian G., 1933. Their father’s younger brother Chris had also immigrated to South Dakota and lived in Aberdeen, where he married and had a family. John and his siblings attended local schools; he displayed an early talent for music, forming a local band at age 14. He began college locally at Northern State University, and then went on to study music and composition at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he became active as an arranger for several varsity musicals and director of a weekly radio orchestra broadcast.

Upon graduation, Cacavas entered the Armed Forces and became an arranger with the prestigious United States Army Band in Washington, D. C.  It was there that he began writing arrangements and compositions for the nation’s major music publishers.  He also began his long-time friendship and collaboration with Charles Osgood, later a news commentator and personality at CBS , with whom he collaborated on musical compositions and recordings.  With their writing of an oratorio, The Conversion of Paul, they won national acclaim.  Upon his discharge, Cacavas moved to New York and began pursuing his career in earnest, continuing his composing and arranging.  He served as an assistant conductor at CBS under the tutelage of the esteemed Alfredo Antonini, and worked closely with Morton Gould.  Cacavas went on to become Director of Publications at Chappell & Co. Inc. while continuing with his composing career.

In the 1960s Cacavas and Osgood collaborated on further works, including on U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen’s recording of Gallant Men, which won a Grammy Award for a spoken word performance. In 1970 he and his family moved to London where he became established as a film composer.  While working in London in the 1970s, Cacavas met actor Telly Savalas, who later helped him move into working on movie scores. Cacavas scored Savalas’s 1972 cult horror film Horror Express, and he moved to Hollywood, where he began to compose scores for television series and movies produced for TV. His most noted scores were written for the series Kojak (1973-1978), for which he was the chief composer. For its 5th and final season in 1977-1978, Cacavas composed the show’s third main title theme.

Cacavas’s television credits are extensive, including scoring the series Hawaii Five-O, The Bionic Woman, Mrs. Columbo, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, as well as television movies, such as The Elevator (1974), Friendly Persuasion (1975), Murder at the World Series (1977), SST: Death Flight (1977), Superdome (1978), The Time Machine (1978) and the 1982 film The Executioner’s Song, starring Tommy Lee Jones. Scoring music for the 1981 television movie Hellinger’s Law reunited him with Kojak veteran and friend Telly Savalas, and Cacavas also went on to score Savalas’s made for TV Dirty Dozen sequel movies The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987) and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988). His later television work included popular miniseries such as Jenny’s War (1985) and Perfect Murder, Perfect Town in 2000.

While Cacavas has extensive credits in television he has comparatively few credits for film scores. His most notable works in film are two entries in the Airport series: Airport 1975 and Airport ’77. As well as Horror Express he also composed the score for the Hammer film The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), which also starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and his other scores included Hangar 18 (1980), Gangster Wars (1981), Mortuary (1983), and They’re Playing with Fire (1984).  Cacavas is also notable for his “Flute Poem”, known by Canadian viewers as the opening to Hinterland Who’s Who, a series of public service announcements profiling various wild Canadian animals.  Later in his career, Cacavas wrote the theme song for the 2005 video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. The song, “March Popakov Remix,” was sampled by DJ Danger Mouse and is used frequently in the game.

Cacavas was a leading figure in the American school music field for many years.  His published educational works total over two thousand in the areas of symphonic band, orchestra, chorus and chamber works.  In recognition of his musical expertise, he was invited to guest lecture and conduct seminars around the country, appearing at UCLA, USC, Northwestern University, San Diego State and many other venues.  His CDs include the soundtrack albums from Airport ’75, From London with Love, Phantom of the Opera and Other Broadway Hits, Gallant Men and Behind the Scenes, which is a selection of his top TV and movie themes.  As a songwriter, his most famous collaboration was with lyricist Hal David and they had two CDs released by the music production firm, Zomba.  Other original songs and arrangements have been recorded by Nancy Wilson, Roger Williams, Sacha Distel, Telly Savalas, Ed McMahon, Les Brown, Lalo Schifrin, the Boston Pops, The Ventures, Ed Townsend and the Cincinnati Pops.

Aside from films, Cacavas was active as a guest conductor with the London Symphony, the BBC Orchestra of London, The Atlanta Symphony, Radio City Music Hall Orchestra, The Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra, The Dutch National Radio Orchestra, Sinfonia of London, The City of Prague Philharmonic, The Florida Symphonic Pops and the United States Army Band.  He also served as the principal conductor of the Beverly Hills Pops.  In addition, his works have been performed by many major orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Pops, San Francisco Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, The Honolulu and Indianapolis Symphonies and countless others.  In his later years, Cacavas wrote and published his autobiography, entitled It’s More than Do-Re-Mi: My Life in Music (2004). He lived in Beverly Hills, California, and London, UK, with his wife, Bonetta Becker Cacavas. Among his pleasures was cooking and he was an accomplished chef. They had three children, Lisa, John and Jennifer, and three grandchildren, James Stewart, Eric and Alexander Cacavas.  He died at his home in Beverly Hills, CA, on January 28, 2014.

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

Star Spangled Spectacular (Music of George M. Cohan).

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