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WORLD | 09-02-2023 13:54

Legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach dead at 94

Legendary US pop composer, songwriter and pianist Burt Bacharach, who provided a chart-topping playlist for the 1960s and 1970s with hits like 'I Say a Little Prayer,' has died in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

Legendary US pop composer, songwriter and pianist Burt Bacharach, whose prolific output provided a chart-topping playlist for the 1960s and 1970s with hits like 'I Say a Little Prayer,' has died in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

Bacharach worked with a constellation of stars during his decades-long career, from Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, to Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones, to Elvis Costello and the White Stripes. 

Bacharach – who died on Wednesday of natural causes, his publicist Tina Brausman told AFP – was known for romantic and melancholic ballads that blurred the line between jazz and pop, and regularly topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

He earned a flurry of accolades including three Oscars including for the score of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, eight Grammy awards including a lifetime achievement prize, two Golden Globes and induction in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The list of hits is long: 'Walk On By,' 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose,' and 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head' are only a few of the best known. He penned nearly 50 Top 100 hits and nine songs that went to number one on the charts.

Bacharach enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with Dionne Warwick, including on the 1985 power collaboration 'That's What Friends Are For,' a cover of a song first co-written in 1982 with Carole Bayer Sager, who was one of his four wives along with actress Angie Dickinson.

"Keep smilin', keep shinin' // Knowing you can always count on me for sure // That's what friends are for," said the lyrics, which brought Warwick together with Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight for a fundraiser to combat the AIDS epidemic.

 

Arranger, singer, writer

A pianist passionate about jazz, Bacharach was born on May 12, 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri, and studied the art of composition at several US universities.

After his military service, he was hired by Marlene Dietrich as an arranger and musical director for her tours.

In 1957, he met lyricist Hal David, who died in 2012, with whom he would form one of the most successful partnerships in the music industry.

Four years later, they would discover during a recording session a young chorus girl who would become their standard bearer: Warwick. 

Between 1962 and 1968, they wrote 15 titles that rose into the US Top 40.

The songwriting duo won two Oscars for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: best original score, and best original song for 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head.'

In 1973, a financial dispute broke out between the two men. For 10 years, they spoke only through lawyers and never worked together again.

Thereafter, he travelled around the world performing with elite orchestras, though the coronavirus pandemic curtailed his touring schedule.

In 2012, then-US president Barack Obama awarded him with the prestigious Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. 

Demonstrating his longevity and cross-generational fan base, Bacharach sang at the Glastonbury festival in Britain in 2015 at age 87, serenading the crowd with an hour-long set of hits.

The crowd bathed "in the romantic, rose-tinted glow of the easy-listening king," reported The Guardian, adding that Adele was among those watching in admiration.

Bacharach is survived by his fourth wife Jane and three children. A fourth child, Nikki, predeceased him.

"RIP Maestro. It was a pleasure to have known you," Oasis singer Noel Gallagher wrote on Instagram.

 

–– TIMES/AFP

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by Huw Griffith & Susan Stumme, AFP

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