The film composer whose elegant James Bond soundtracks helped define the 1960s has died of a heart attack in New York. He was 77. Barry won 5 Academy Awards for his work on Born Free, The Lion In Winter, Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves. He was made a BAFTA fellow in 2005 and was given an OBE in 1999 for his services to music. Barry’s hypnotic jazz arrangements, brassy horns, and swooning strings made his sound one of the most easily recognised in the world. His scores for Midnight Cowboy, The Ipcress File and Body Heat told you everything you needed to know within their first few seconds. Barry wrote the soundtracks for 11 James Bond films including Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice.
Born in York in the north of England in 1933, Barry was schooled in church music by the organist of York Minster cathedral. He went on to form his John Barry Seven jazz band, which had several hits before he was hired to arrange Monty Norman’s famous James Bond signature tune in 1962. Don Black, who wrote the lyrics for Thunderball and several other Bond theme tunes, tells me: “John had his signature on everything he did. You listen to one of his scores and you think, that’s John Barry – just the same as when you hear Sinatra sing. He was a brilliant musical dramatist who could just lock in to the emotion on screen.”
David Arnold, the composer who inherited Barry’s mantle overseeing the Bond soundtracks said: “He was the reason why I got into film music. It’s a profound loss for everyone. He was gruff and forthright and hilarious. But it’s the musical legacy that’s astonishing. The music he wrote often transcended the film he wrote it for. James Bond would have been far less cool without John Barry holding his hand.”