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Music

'Star Wars' composer John Williams turns 85

John Williams has created soundtracks to some of the top-grossing films of all time. His music has etched itself into our memory, from "Jaws" don't-get-in-the-water warnings to "Star Wars" inter-galactic battle tunes.

The name John Towner Williams may not ring any bells initially, but there's a good chance you've heard him before. Williams, who celebrates his 85th birthday on February 8, 2017, is one of the most heard composers of our time, having written the soundtracks to the of the biggest blockbusters of the past half-decade. 

The New England-born composer and pianist got his start in 1955 as a student at the Juilliard School of Music after serving in the Air Force. After his studies, he moved on to Los Angeles, where he recorded with Henry Mancini throughout the 1960s while composing for some of the most popular television series of the time.

His music set the backdrop for paradise-gone-wrong on the series "Gilligan's Island," created the mood in "Lost in Space," and later provided the theme music for the drug-addled antics in 1967's "Valley of the Dolls," for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Inspired by Richard Wagner and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Williams has won numerous awards throughout his career, becoming the second-most-nominated person in Academy Award history with 50 Oscar nods. Among his Oscar-award-winning compositions are the scores for the cinematic successes "Schindler's List," "E.T.," "Star Wars," "Jaws" and "Fiddler on the Roof." He likewise holds 22 Grammys, four Golden Globes and seven British Academy Film Awards to his name.

Setting movies to music

As the theme music to many of the highest-grossing films of all time, Williams' scores have helped instill many film-goers with unforgettable emotions: The ominous two-note ostinato from "Jaws" still rings in many of our ears when we step into an ocean and a pit of dread forms in our stomachs. 

The leitmotifs that run through the "Star Wars"' space epics made the soundtrack one of the highest grossing non-popular music recordings of all time. It's hard to imagine Superman taking flight or Indiana Jones running from a giant boulder without the blast of trumpets. Even Harry Potter's magic wand gains new life when waved to the sounds of Williams' compositions.

Despite all the successes Williams has achieved thus far in his career, he shows no signs of slowing down at 85, continuing to lend his talents to numerous films. A good friend of Stephen Spielberg's, he has written the soundtracks for "Munich," "The Adventures of Tintin" and, more recently, "The Book Thief" and "Lincoln." Next up: the music for the latest in the Star Wars series.

 

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