Childhood & Early Life
He was born on May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, Missouri, US in the Jewish family of reputed syndicated newspaper columnist Mark Bertram "Bert" Bacharach and amateur painter and songwriter Irma M. (née Freeman). He was raised in Forest Hills, Queens.
His mother made him learn the piano as a child; however after attaining teenage he developed interest in jazz. He attended Forest Hills High School and graduated in 1946. He often visited the 52nd Street nightclubs using fake ID and listened to bebop musicians like Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. Their style would later impact his work as song-writer.
He earned Bachelor of Music degree from Montreal's McGill University in 1948 and also studied music from Music Academy of the West and Mannes School of Music. At one point he came under tutelage of Darius Milhaud who he considers his biggest influence. He penned down a ‘Sonatina for Violin, Oboe and Piano’ under guidance of Milhaud.
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He had a stint with the US Army following which he remained associated with famous American singer Vic Damone as a pianist and conductor for three years. He also played same role for other singers like the Ames Brothers, Polly Bergen and Paula Stewart (later his first wife). At times he would also work with singers like Joel Grey at resorts in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
He rose to prominence while working as arranger and conductor of nightclub shows of the Lola-Lola famed German-American movie star and vocalist Marlene Dietrich. He was recommended to the diva by composer Peter Matz in 1956. He intermittently toured worldwide with Dietrich till the early 1960s and also worked as her part-time music director. Their association of around five years ended when Bacharach expressed his wish to concentrate full-time on song-writing.
He met lyricist Hal David at the Brill Building in New York City in 1957 that initiated a writing endeavour between them. Their big break came that year with the song ‘The Story of My Life’ written by them and sung by US country singer Marty Robbins. The song peaked atop the US country chart for four weeks and ranked #15 in the Billboard Top 100 chart.
British crooner Michael Holliday recorded a cover version of ‘The Story of My Life’ that climbed atop the UK Singles Chart in February 1958. The song was replaced by yet another song written by Bacharach and David with music by the former titled ‘Magic Moments’ and recorded by Perry Como in 1957 for RCA Records. With such feat Bacharach and David became the first lyricists to spawn two consecutive chart topping UK singles.
He discovered Dionne Warwick in 1961 (who later became famous singer, actress and television show host). At that time she was working as a session accompanist. Her professional recording debut happened in 1962 with the hit song ‘Don't Make Me Over’ written and produced by Bacharach and David.
Bacharach’s first opportunity to execute overall recording process of one of his own songs came when singer Jerry Butler assigned him to record ‘Make it Easy on Yourself’ written by him and David. The song released in 1962 and became quite popular.
The continuing success of their early collaborative efforts led Bacharach and David to get into a writing partnership in 1963.
In the ensuing years Bacharach and David spawned several songs particularly for Warwick to perform which emerged as popular hits. Some of them include ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ (1964), ‘Walk On By’ (1964), ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ (1967) and ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose’ (1968).
Meanwhile in 1965 his debut solo album ‘Hit Maker! Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits’ released through Kapp Records label. It failed to garner much attention in the US, however climbed at #3 on the UK album charts. His later albums include ‘Woman’ (1979) and ‘At This Time’ (2005). The latter won him the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2006.
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He signed with A&M Records as an artist in 1967 and recorded both new stuffs and re-arrangements of his popular songs for them till 1978.
With time he bolstered his presence by writing hits for several artists like the Carpenters, Tom Jones, B. J. Thomas, Dusty Springfield and Gene Pitney. He would produce, arrange and conduct most of his recorded output.
Over the years he gave music for many films like ‘After the Fox’ (1966), ‘Casino Royale’ (1967) and ‘Lost Horizon’ (1973). Poor performance of ‘Lost Horizon’, the songs of which were written by Bacharach and David, resulted in a rift between the two leading to termination of their years-long thriving partnership. They however briefly reunited in 1975 and wrote and produced some records.
Meanwhile he won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album in 1969 for his work on the 1968 musical ‘Promises, Promises’. Bacharach and David wrote and produced the song ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head’ for the American Western film ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (1969). The song fetched the duo Academy Awards and a Grammy award.
He shared the Academy Award for Best Original Song along with Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross and Peter Allen for co-writing ‘Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)’, from the blockbuster hit 1981 American comedy film ‘Arthur’. He married Carole the following year and co-wrote some hits with her including ‘Making Love’ (1982), ‘Heartlight’ (1982) and ‘On My Own’ (1986).
The 1985 cover version of the song ‘That's What Friends Are For’ written by Bacharach and Carole and performed by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1986.
He collaborated with Elvis Costello and released album ‘Painted from Memory’ through Mercury Records on September 29, 1998. Its tracks ‘I Still Have That Other Girl’ earned the two a Grammy Award for ‘Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals’ that year.
He has made several on-screen appearances including in television shows like ‘The Merv Griffin Show’, ‘Nip/Tuck’ and ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’; in television commercials including for Martini & Rossi beverages; and in all the three Austin Powers films (1997, 1999, 2002).
An honorary Doctorate of Music was conferred to him by Berklee College of Music in 2009.
He married four times. The first one was with American actress Paula Stewart from December 22, 1953 to 1958.
He then married American actress Angie Dickinson on May 15, 1965, which ended in divorce on August 4, 1981. Their daughter Nikki who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome committed suicide at age 40 in 2007.
He was then married to American lyricist, singer-songwriter, painter and author Carole Bayer Sager from April 3, 1982 to July 11, 1991. They adopted a son Christopher.
He also has a son, Oliver, and daughter, Raleigh from his fourth wife, Jane Hansen whom he married in 1993.
He published an autobiography ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ in 2013.