The Kennedy Center

John Williams


composer and conductor (born February 8, 1932, in Long Island, New York)

His distinctive sound is instantly recognizable, and his scores for what have become classics of the cinema have earned him a place of honor in the history of American film and American music. Named "the most successful composer of film music in the history of the medium" by the Boston Globe, John Williams has given us the brassy, unabashedly romantic, optimistic sound of an all-American art form. He "startles you with the quality of his musical imagination," wrote Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times . "He's the March King of our era," wrote the Boston Globe's Richard Dyer, who also has been "struck again and again by how unmistakable Williams' voice is – and by how many things he can say with it."

A lot, it turns out, all beautifully. His hundreds of musical projects form an impressive panorama of the sounds of our culture, from Playhouse 90 in 1952 and Bachelor Flat in 1962, right through the delicious How To Steal A Million and Penelope in 1966, Valley of the Dolls in 1967, The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, Jaws in 1975, Star Wars beginning in 1977 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind the same year, Superman in 1978, Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, E.T. in 1982, Empire of the Sun in 1987, Schindler's List in 1993, Sabrina and Nixon in 1995, Saving Private Ryan in 1998, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 2001, Catch Me If You Can in 2003, The Terminal in 2004 and the next Indiana Jones picture, set for release in 2006. Making music for motion pictures for six decades and counting, John Williams has been the most powerful, most persuasive champion of true orchestral music on screen.

There is real affection for the great symphonic tradition in his work, which is at once strikingly original and spectacularly accessible. He has revitalized and continues to nourish that tradition, exploring the immense possibilities of the modern symphony orchestra, enjoying a Hollywood career that so far has earned Williams five Academy Awards: for his original scores in Schindler's List, E.T., Star Wars, and Jaws; as well as for his adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof . He also has earned 18 Grammys, three Golden Globes, 4 Emmys, and 3 BAFTA Awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. His music for the Star Wars trilogy alone is an undisputed icon of American popular culture.

Beyond the silver screen, Williams has brought his genius and generosity to the concert stage, as principal conductor and now laureate conductor of the world's most populist symphony, the Boston Pops Orchestra. His own work as a composer may yet prove as influential as his film music and so far has included acclaimed concert scores premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony, as well as by the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra. His duties as a sought-after guest conductor have taken him coast to coast and around the world. The indefatigable musician is currently artist-in-residence of the Tanglewood Festival.

John Towner Williams was born in Long Island and moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1948. He attended UCLA; and he also studied composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He joined the Air Force and, after his service, returned to New York to study at the Juilliard School with the renowned Rosina Lhevinne. Williams cut his teeth as a jazz pianist in Manhattan before returning to Los Angeles, where he began working in films and television. He was a rehearsal pianist for South Pacific, an arranger of albums by artists as diverse as Doris Day and Mahalia Jackson, and a musical assistant and orchestrator for masters of film music including Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann. He worked on television, starting with the Today Show and General Electric Theater, lavishing his talent on TV gems through the years including "The Virginian," "Kraft Summer Music Hall," "Lost in Space," Heidi and, perhaps most unforgettably, in the touching, rousing 1984 Olympic Fanfare that has become an inextricable part of the fabric of Olympic dreams.

He learned from the best, and his music has been at least as bright. The sounds of George Gershwin, of Aaron Copland, of Leonard Bernstein all celebrate and define the American experience in music. John Williams, joyfully, is carrying that celebration into the 21 st Century.
September 2005
John Williams


  • Hook
  • Jaws
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Tribute to Film Composers
  • For Seiji!
  • Five Sacred Trees: Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Schindler's List
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