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Burt Bachrach’s style has kept up the times

By The Greater Astoria Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the Times–Ledger newspaper presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Award-winning songwriter, composer and singer Burt Freeman Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri on May 12, 1928. His father, Bert Bacharach, was a well-known syndicated newspaper columnist. He showed a gift for music early, forming a 10-piece band while a student at Forest Hills High School in Queens and playing piano at the officers’ club on Governors Island while serving in the Army in the early 1950s. In a career spanning seven decades from the Brill Building to Hollywood and beyond, Bacharach has gained fame through musical arrangements for film, television and famous stars including Dionne Warwick and Neil Diamond. He currently lives in Brookville, New York and continues to perform.

As a teenager in Queens, a young Bacharach often used a fake ID to sneak into Manhattan nightclubs to listen to jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, who were a major influence on his development as a musician. After majoring in music at McGill University in Montreal and serving a brief stint in the Army, he worked as a pianist for Vic Damone and other established artists, and toured with Marlene Dietrich as her musical director.

While working at the Brill Building, which Bacharach dubbed a “music factory,” an introduction to lyricist Hal David in 1957 proved a big break. The duo quickly formed a productive partnership, writing Billboard hit singles for Perry Como and Marty Robbins.

In the 1960s, the pair continued their hit streak, composing their first of 22 Billboard Top 40 hits for Dionne Warwick. Over several decades, songs such as “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and “That’s What Friends Are For” shot the young songwriters to enduring musical stardom. During this period, they also composed pieces for other musical legends including Bobby Vinton, The Shirelles, The Beatles, Tom Jones and countless others.

Bacharach and his partner soon garnered greater fame and recognition composing and arranging soundtracks for Broadway shows, television and Hollywood. While they are perhaps best known for their Oscar-winning work “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the pair also collaborated on the 1968 musical “Promises, Promises” and other films in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although the epic collaboration between the two fell apart in the 1970s, numerous pop, country and new wave artists continue to breathe new life into their works. The award-winning songwriter and musician has long since emerged from the shadows of bringing fame to other artists, and draws fans of all ages to his live performances.

The 1990s brought Bacharach’s hits to a new generation of followers with the “Austin Powers” spy comedy trilogy and 1998’s “Painted from Memory” collaboration with Elvis Costello. He made cameo appearances in all three “Austin Powers” movies.

The hitmaker has continued to entertain audiences well into the new century. He wrote his own lyrics for his 2005 album “At This Time,” which included guest performers Rufus Wainwright and rapper Dr. Dre. The following year he appeared in an episode of “American Idol” dedicated to his work and even sang about an auto accident in a Geico car insurance commercial. In 2011 Bacharach and his former partner Hal David were awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song for lifetime contributions to the musical genre, and two years later he released his autobiography “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” He continues to remain active and in step with the times.

Notable Quote: Never be ashamed to write a melody that people remember.

For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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