Remembering John Barry this Valentine’s Day

To me, John Barry (Nov. 3, 1933 – Jan. 30, 2011) would always be the romantic of screen music.

As a youngster, I was thrilled by the iconic theme and melodies from all the James Bond movies, unaware of the name John Barry, the composer. I had seen them all, beginning with “Dr. No”, “From Russia With Love”, “Goldfinger”, “Thunderball”, “You Only Live Twice”…  knowing only one name: Sean Connery.  I did not care to find out more about the creator behind the music which had invigorated a youngster’s fantasy, that of the urbane spy hero, gadget-savvy, resourceful, adroit and indomitable, the romance of a childhood.

And then there was the wild world of nature, and the romance against its backdrop to run free and uninhibited. Again, John Barry’s screen score and Don Black’s lyrics had enriched a young heart with the ideal of freedom and beauty, and instilled the notion that “life is worth living, but only worth living ’cause you’re born free”.  I was oblivious to John Barry’s winning two Oscars with his music for “Born Free” (1966).  To me, what was important was to see the lion Elsa being set free into the wild to go back to her real home.

Years later, as the child grew up to become the ever steadfast romantic, I was again mesmerized by John Barry’s melodies set to some most memorable cinematic renderings, utterly enthralled by the simple melodic lines from “Somewhere In Time” (1980). Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour brought out the most heart-wrenching scenario of unrequited love. CLICK HERE to listen and watch on YouTube.

Again a few years later, there emerged the deep yearning and expansive orchestral score from “Out Of Africa” (1985). Another pair of star-crossed lovers entered the romantic landscape. Robert Redford and Meryl Streep poignantly portrayed the auto-biographical sketch of Danish writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). John Barry won another Oscar.  CLICK HERE to watch and listen on YouTube.

Fast forward some more, the sweeping orchestration of “Dances With Wolves” (1990) with Kevin Costner’s epic cinematic depiction of the Sioux nation presented another frame of romantic offering: a people striving to defend their raison d’être, and a man clinging to his own ideals.  John Barry’s musical creation had done it again, capturing another Oscar.  CLICK HERE to watch and listen on YouTube.

There are many more works by Barry, who at the end of a career that spanned almost 50 years, had garnered 5 Oscars and many other accolades.  Some other acclaimed film scores include Best Music Oscar for “The Lion In Winter” (1968), Best Music Oscar nomination for “Chaplin” (1992) and “Mary Queen of Scots” (1971). Still others include “Zulu” (1964), “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), “Walkabout” (1971), “King Kong” (1976), “Body Heat” (1981), “Jagged Edge” (1985)…

This Valentine, I remember John Barry as a romantic. I lament the passing of another figure among a generation of artists who worked with genuine talents and old-school creativity without massive hi-tech glamour. This Valentine, I remember also Sydney Pollack (1934-2008) and Anthony Minghella (1954-2008).


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

5 thoughts on “Remembering John Barry this Valentine’s Day”

  1. A lovely tribute to Barry. Since I’ve not seen some of the films, I’ve not heard some of the music – although of course the music can permeate the culture far beyond the theatre. “Born Free” is a perfect example – I still can hear that song. It was everywhere.

    I smiled at your reference to the Bond films. I had the chance to dive Thunderball Cave one year, so of course I had to see that movie, just to relive my own vacation. The vacation wasn’t so exciting as the movie, believe me!

    And I’ve been meaning to tell you – I learned recently that one of my blog friends from California truly is related to film scores. Her grandfather, Heinz Eric Roemheld, won an Oscar for his scoring of Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney. The Oscar itself circulates among family members. Karen had a photo of it on her blog recently, sitting on her piano – I meant to save the photo but didn’t. What a memento to have!

    Her grandfather also scored scenes in Gone with the Wind and Shine On, Harvest Moon, among others. And he composed the song “Ruby” from the movie Ruby Gentry. There’s a Wiki page with full credits.

    When you get right down to it, all of this is quite romantic. And yet, the thought of a family I know passing an Oscar around their various living rooms – that’s pretty darned special.


    1. Linda,

      That’s quite something to have an Oscar statuette as a family heirloom. It must be a musically rich environment for her to grow up in. Is she into film or music herself?

      As for the works by John Barry, they just draw me in with such natural appeal and power… and I didn’t even know they are from the same composer until recent years. The movies I mention here are my favorites, and I’m sure the music in all of them play a major role in captivating me. They are all heart-stirring, epic sound, and yes, very romantic… And I hope from my post, I’ve shown that the word ‘romantic’ encompasses a much larger realm of human sentiments and ideals than the word usually refers to for Valentine’s Day.


  2. I’m beginning to get a picture of you as someone who looks beyond the obvious – who turns over rocks to see what’s underneath – and whose perspective isn’t the usual.
    I’ve always thought that having the right music to listen to while writing would help in the process, but it’s hard to find exactly what works. Another writer tipped me off to film scores, and they’re usually just right. Now I’ll be looking to see if I can find a collection of John Barry’s music. I hadn’t known his name, but loved his music – especially Born Free and the Bond themes. I was thrilled to get the sheet music for Born Free when it first came out – must have played it a thousand times.

    Wonderful post, Arti. A warm and graceful tribute to a talented composer. By the way, I never did reply to your comment on my blog, wanting instead to write to you personally. Now that I’ve finally got around to looking for an email address for you, I realize you don’t make it available. so I’ll say here that I really appreciated what you had to say about parenting styles, and particularly the Tiger Mom author. Thank you for taking the time to discuss that, and teach me someting in the process.


    Again, thanks for your kind words. And yes, by all means, try using these clips to see if you like that, film scores as music for writing.

    I always thought you could see my email as I comment on your blog. But no worry, I’ll let you know so we can keep contact that way. And also, recently I’ve started joining the millions on this planet by stepping into the brave new world of Twittering. If you are one of them, we could also connect that way too. 😉



  3. Arti – this is a lovely valentine, indeed. And as I read what Barry has done, I note that those are ALL favorite movies of mine, no lie. And I have such an emotional tie to each of them. Funny, I realize now that a huge part of that emotional tie is related directly to the music. What if I saw SOMEWHERE IN TIME without music? It would likely fall flat, or corny. I think even as I read sometimes, I supply (my own) soundtrack (which is part of the magic of reading, too.)

    And then OUT OF AFRICA. Really, I had no idea of Barry’s talents and much time they span.
    Thanks for this Valentine and for so wisely expanding the meaning of giving a Valentine, to begin with.
    Now I’m going to go back and listen to a bit of each of those. First I must find a box of tissues!


    Yes, that’s how I made the connection… serendipitously discovered that all my favorite film music were created by the same composer. And they make good music for driving. I’ve all these CD’s in my car… not the James Bond ones though. They probably could lead me to a speeding ticket!



  4. Alas, when I heard of John Barry’s death I felt a pang of sadness more intense than the typical sad but inevitable death of someone who was an icon in their field. Like you, my first awareness of his name was with “Born Free,” but it was “Out of Africa” and “Dances with Wolves” that really pulled me in emotionally. (I can remember countless massages during which I would listen to “Africa” for the full hour. Since it’s a short CD, the therapist would start it over after some 40 minutes!)

    This is a lovely tribute. Thanks.


    Actually I came to know the name John Barry much later than “Born Free”… not until I’d the chance to admire “Somewhere In Time” or maybe even later. It’s quite a loss I feel, all these ‘old school’ talents are all passing.



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