Legendary singer-songwriter Burt Bacharach died February 8 at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 94. The news was confirmed to The New York Times by his publicist, Tina Brausam.
Bacharach is best known as the writer behind numerous pop songs that debuted throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, most written with lyricist Hal David. His jazz background led to unique harmony and syncopated rhythms that set his songs apart, with a catalog including such titles as "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "(They Long to Be) Close to You," and "That's What Friends Are For."
At the pinnacle of his mainstream success, Bacharach would turn his eyes to Broadway, composing the score (with David again penning lyrics) to 1968's Promises, Promises, a stage musical adaptation of Billy Wilder's 1961 film The Apartment. Centering on a young executive lending his apartment out to his superiors for their extramarital affairs, the work was refreshingly modern, adult, and edgy for its time. Bacharach brought his trademark sound intact to the musical's score. Both "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and "Promises, Promises" would become major radio hits after debuting in the musical, with the score also including such songs as "Knowing When to Leave" and "Whoever You Are (I Love You)."
The musical was a giant hit on Broadway, and an influential one. Getting that Bacharach sound out of the recording studio and into a live theatre required complex amplification and mixing of not only the actors' voices but of individual instruments in the orchestra—the show would become the first on Broadway to bring a studio-style mixing board into the pit. Together with then-newcomer orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, Bacharach redefined what a Broadway musical could sound like. Many of the artists responsible for Promises, Promises would go on to work on Stephen Sondheim's Company in 1970—notably including Tunick and choreographer Michael Bennett, both of whom expanded upon their achievements on Promises for Company's sound and choreography—making the Tony-winning landmark concept musical somewhat of a spiritual successor to Promises.
The musical would go on to receive a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical (losing to 1776) and spawn a West End production, national tours, and countless regional stagings. The work returned to New York via City Center Encores! in 1997, with Martin Short starring; and to Broadway in a 2010 revival starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth. The latter production added two Bacharach-David classics to the score, with both "I Say a Little Prayer" and "A House Is Not a Home" joining the songlist.
With a major musical theatre success under his belt, Bacharach shifted to movie musicals. After a planned screen adaptation of Promises, Promises failed to materialize, Bacharach and David joined a movie musical adaptation of the 1937 film Lost Horizon. Telling the story of a group of travelers who find themselves in the mythical and idyllic Shangri-La where perfect weather and eternal life are the norm, the film would prove to be somewhat less successful than Promises. Critical reception was not great, and the movie failed to deliver at the box office. To add insult to injury, none of Bacharach and David's songs really took off, though a 5th Dimension cover of "Living Together, Growing Together" did achieve modest success. Bacharach writes in his 2013 autobiography, Anyone Who Had a Heart, that the project nearly brought his music career to an end. The experience would, in fact, end the long collaboration between Bacharach and David, who would not pen any songs together following the film score's completion. Mr. David died in 2012 at the age of 91.
Though he's best known for his pop recordings, Bacharach continued to have connections to the world of theatre. A revue of Bacharach and David songs titled The Look of Love played a limited engagement on Broadway via Roundabout Theatre Company in 2003, the same year some of his songs ended up in the score of the Peter Allen jukebox musical The Boy From Oz. Some Lovers, a version of O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi written by Bacharach and Steven Sater, premiered at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre in 2011. The pair were still working on the piece as late as 2017, when a revised version played a U.K. run at The Other Palace Theatre. The musical's 2022 cast album garnered Bacharach his final career Grammy nomination, bringing his total to 21 (Bacharach won six times, including in 1970 for the Promises, Promises original Broadway cast album).
New York Theatre Workshop produced another Bacharach revue Off-Broadway in 2013. Conceived and starring Kyle Riabko, What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined featured new, modernized takes on such Bacharach favorites as "Alfie," "Walk On By," and "I Say a Little Prayer." Following the Off-Broadway premiere, the work, retitled Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined, enjoyed a successful West End run that released a cast album in 2016.
Following the 2016 shooting massacre at Orlando gay club Pulse, dozens of Broadway favorites gathered to record a benefit single in support of the LGBT Community Center of Central Florida. With a roster of stars that included Sara Bareilles, Carole King, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, and dozens more, the project chose Bacharach and David's "What the World Needs Now is Love" for their song, finding an inspired relevance to the tragic moment in David's lyrics and Bacharach's timeless melody.
Mr. Bacharach is survived by his fourth wife, Jane Hansen; their son and daughter, Oliver and Raleigh, respectively; and a son, Cristopher, from his marriage with Carole Bayer-Sager. He is predeceased by a daughter, Nikki, from his marriage with Angie Dickinson.