American Music in the United States

Hollywood and Music at BMI

From the start, BMI has maintained a nationwide operation, opening a West Coast office on North Vine Street in Hollywood as early as 1941. When the demands of that office began to expand in 1948, they were ably met by Richard Kirk, formerly of BMI's New York licensing department and later in charge of licensing on the West Coast. In 1951, Bob Burton, then in charge of BMI's department for publisher and writer relations, put Kirk at the head of writer and publisher relations for the Hollywood office.

At the time Kirk took up business in Hollywood, most motion picture music was controlled by ASCAP publishing houses owned by the motion picture studios. He was initially more successful in attracting writers of music for the new medium of television. During the 1950s, it was common practice for producers to score their programs with so-called "canned music," supplied by track libraries. Companies like Mutel, Gordon Music, Bibo Music, and Langlois Transcriptions offered records of generic music that could be plugged into any television program as background. Through Kirk's energetic courting of these companies, by the end of the fifties BMI had signed 85 percent of all the track libraries.

As television grew in sophistication, producers began to pay more attention to music, and theme and background scores increased in importance. BMI intensively campaigned to find and sign those writers who were likely to provide this music, due in large part to Bob Burton's far-sighted perception of where the music marketplace was going. One person who shared this vision of the future was veteran motion picture composer Lionel Newman, who signed with BMI in 1951. General music director at Twentieth Century Fox, he helped Kirk locate potential television composers. These included Earle Hagen, best known for "The Andy Griffith Show" theme and "The Fishin' Hole," amongst many others, and Jerry Goldsmith, who went on from composing themes for "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "Dr. Kildare" to score more than 100 films.

During the 1950s and 1960s many writers being signed to BMI came to film and TV composing from jazz and the big bands, including Billy May, Pete Rugolo, and Harry Geller. By November 1963, BMI music was being used on 112 out of 163 regularly scheduled network shows. One of the most successful such writers is Argentinian-born pianist Lalo Schifrin. He came to the United States in 1960 as part of Dizzy Gillespie's quintet and, starting in 1963, scored more than 75 pictures. One of his best known credits is the "Mission Impossible" theme, written in 1968, a fast-paced, musically sophisticated piece that was also a hit on the pop charts.

By the 1970s, rock music was having an influence on television music. Sonny Curtis, who had written for Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, composed the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme in 1970. Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, whose background included writing "Killing Me Softly With His Song," a #1 hit for Roberta Flack in 1973, wrote the "Happy Days" theme in the same year. It evoked the nostalgic feel of the 1950s depicted in the situation comedy and became a pop hit, #4 on the charts for Pratt & McClain, in 1976.

In the 1980s, television music combined jazz, rhythm & blues, rock, and classical influences, with synthesizers and drum machines increasingly becoming part of the composer's palette. The dazzling interplay of influences can be heard in Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby's funky "Kiss Me" theme for "The Cosby Show" (1986), Dave Grusin's quietly urgent "St. Elsewhere" theme (1982), and Mike Post's driving theme for "L.A. Law" (1986). The careers of both Grusin and Post indicate the degree to which contemporary composers are not restricted to any one medium. In addition to his television work, Grusin has won Grammys for his jazz writing and scored a number of films, including The Milagro Beanfield War, for which he won an Oscar. Post has a background in the rock field, winning a Grammy for arranging Mason Williams' instrumental "Classical Gas" in 1969, and is one of the most outspoken and influential proponents of copyright legislation. He has frequently given testimony in Washington in support of causes important to the protection of performing rights.

Film music is an integral part of the BMI repertoire, as the company licenses the work of such internationally known writers as John Williams, whose scores have added to some of the top 10 film money-makers of all time, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies as well as E.T. Initially, some significant BMI film music came from abroad. For example, "Song From Moulin Rouge," combining the music of French composer Georges Auric and English lyrics of William Engvick, topped the pop charts in 1953. In 1960, the theme song to Never On Sunday earned Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis and English lyricist Billy Towne a Best Song Oscar, the first such award given to a BMI song. French composer Maurice Jarre's work for Lawrence Of Arabia made it the first BMI-licensed motion picture to win an Oscar for Best Score. The theme for the documentary Mondo Cane, "More," composed by Nino Oliviero and Riz Ortolani with Italian lyrics by Marcello Ciorciolini and English lyrics by Norman Newell, became a jazz hit and a pop standard in 1966.

In Hollywood, composers Richard and Robert Sherman, sons of Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman, signed an exclusive contract with the Disney organization in 1960. The company's faith in the Shermans was justified by the success of their score for Mary Poppins (1964), which earned the Shermans two Academy Awards for best score and best song, "Chim Chim Cher-ee." They later wrote the scores for a number of Disney films, including The Jungle Book and Bedknobs And Broomsticks, as well as "It's A Small World," the popular song used in Disney's theme parks. Another successful BMI composer is British-born John Barry, best known for his scores for the early James Bond films and winner of the Oscar for Best Score four times, including for Out Of Africa.

Songwriters and composers from outside the Hollywood mainstream increasingly have seen film scores and film theme songs as a lucrative field and one in which to stretch their musical skills. The result has been such chart-topping records as the pop standard "Strangers In The Night," by German composer Bert Kaempfert and American lyricists Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder. It was the theme song for the 1966 film A Man Could Get Killed but achieved greater success when recorded by Frank Sinatra. British-born Broadway composer Leslie Bricusse, who in collaboration with Anthony Newley wrote the Broadway musicals The Roar Of The Greasepaint -- The Smell Of The Crowd and Stop The World -- I Want To Get Off, has contributed memorable songs to a number of films, including Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Two For The Road, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (for which he wrote "The Candy Man"), and Dr. Doolittle (for which he wrote the Academy Award-winning "Talk To The Animals").

Numerous writers from the fields of r&b, country, rock, and pop joined the film scoring community. Isaac Hayes, staff writer and performer at Memphis's Stax Records, wrote and performed the score to the 1971 thriller Shaft. The "Theme From Shaft" was a #1 hit and the double LP soundtrack sold more than a million copies. Country singer/songwriter Dolly Parton not only starred in 1980's Nine To Five, but her theme song was a #1 pop and country hit and won her two Grammy Awards.

Other rock and pop songwriters have composed memorable and successful theme songs, including Stephen Bishop ("Separate Lives" from White Nights was BMI's most performed song of 1986) and Dean Pitchford (1980's "Fame," co-written with Michael Gore, won an Academy Award for best song, and Footloose spawned the #1 hit "Let's Hear It For The Boy," co-written with Tom Snow).

Other pop writers have scored entire movies. Michael Kamen, who worked in the rock world with Pink Floyd and David Bowie, scored Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, while rock songwriter Alan Silvestri composed scores for Romancing The Stone, Who Killed Roger Rabbit, and Back To The Future. Singer Danny Elfman from the rock band Oingo Boingo is responsible for the scoring of Midnight Run, Beetlejuice, and Batman. Keyboard player David Foster has added scoring to his string of pop successes, which include "After The Love Is Gone" for Earth, Wind & Fire and "Hard Habit To Break" for Chicago. His scores can be heard in such films as The Karate Kid, The Secret Of My Success, and St. Elmo's Fire.

Information on this page courtesy of the bmi library