Bill Conti: The Inspirational

Bill Conti’s work has gone places that many composers dream of.  His achievements have ranged from world famous themes, numerous simultaneous television credits, and conducting the Academy Awards (in addition to winning one of his own).

Conti was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1942.  He started piano as a child with his father as his teacher.  He eventually added bassoon to his repertoire.  The family moved to Florida, and there Conti joined his high school band and orchestra.  He majored in composition at Louisiana State University, and continued playing bassoon, playing jazz in night clubs and arranging music for the marching band.  After LSU, he was accepted into the Juilliard School of Music, where he received a Master’s Degree. 

Conti moved to Italy in 1967 and began arranging and scoring for various projects.  Upon moving back to the United States in 1974, he was tapped by director Paul Mazursky to move to Hollywood and score Blume in Love (1973).  It was Mazursky who would also bring Conti along for Harry and Tonto (1974).  The score would bring Conti some Hollywood attention, but not as much as the score he did for director John G. Avildsen – Rocky (1976).  The film (which won the Oscar for Best Picture), featured Conti’s theme song “Gonna Fly Now”.  The song was both Golden Globe and Oscar nominated.  The hit song also appeared at #1 on the Billboard charts in 1977, as well as RIAA Certified Platinum Album and RIAA Certified Gold Record.  The theme of course is synonymous with sports films, montages and certainly entered pop culture with numerous references in films and TV.  The song “Gonna Fly Now” was also voted to the AFI 100 Songs list. 

For the 49th Annual Academy Awards (1977), he was designated Music Director for the first time.  Conti’s history as Oscar conductor is legendary and one of his great accomplishments. 

Conti continued scoring TV movies and films at a quick pace.  Other scores from the 1970s include: An Unmarried Woman (1978), F.I.S.T. (1978), the Stallone film Paradise Alley (1978), Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978), A Man, A Woman and a Bank (1979) for Paul Mazursky, and Rocky II (1979) which expanded his themes from the original in tone and orchestration. 

His success continued into the 1980s starting with the comedy Private Benjamin (1980).  As the James Bond franchise continued into the 1980s, usual composer John Barry was swapped for Conti in For Your Eyes Only (1981).  The film was a hit, and again featured a hit title song.  The hit song (sung by Sheena Easton), was nominated for both the Golden Globes and Oscars, both losing to Arthur’s Theme from Arthur (1981).  The 80s also brought Conti to the small screen, writing themes for television shows like Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Cagney & Lacey, and even American Gladiators.  Continuing with the franchise, Conti scored Rocky III (1982).  Conti also scored the astronaut drama The Right Stuff (1983).  Many moments in the score are based on music heard in the temp tracks, notably music by Henry Mancini and classical composers Piotr Tchaikovsky and Gustav Holst (Mancini and Holst are listed in the credits in the song section).  Nevertheless, the score won the Oscar for Best Score in 1984, being Bill Conti’s first win.

For the 1984 Summer Olympics, Conti contributed The Power Sports Theme.  Also in 1984, he reunited with Rocky director John G. Avildsen for The Karate Kid.  He also continued scoring the series with Karate Kid Part II (1986), Karate Kid Part III (1989) and The Next Karate Kid (1994).  Another large success for Conti was the TV mini-series North and South (1985) and the sequel North and South, Book II (1986).  Conti was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the original series.  He had other hits in the late 1980s including the stinker Masters of the Universe (1987), Broadcast News (1987) and the drama Lean on Me (1989) with John G. Avildsen.   One of the few film composers to have one, Conti received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989.

His role as musical director for the Academy Awards continued, and received an Emmy for Musical Director for the 64th Annual Awards.  Conti returned to Rocky (after not scoring Rocky IV) – for the next film Rocky V (1990).  Through the 90s, he continued to be the go-to Oscar musical director.  He scored a lot of light-hearted scores including The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), Rookie of the Year (1993), and Spy Hard (1996).  Conti reunited with Nomads (1986) director John McTiernan for The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).  He also wrote several themes for ABC News Primetime Live as it evolved in the 2000s.  He returned to the Rocky franchise with a different take on his past scores with Rocky Balboa (2006). 

He continues to score films and conducts various orchestras around the world.  He has conducted or been musical director of the Academy Awards 19 times.  The score to the film Tropic Thunder (2008) even has a track title (which takes place at the Oscars) titled “Cue Bill Conti”. 

Conti’s music works hand in hand with the inspirational montages found in the Rocky and Karate Kid films.  His score to The Right Stuff is just as inspirational and emotional.  His scores range in many genres and he has a great ability to get to the moment of whatever the director is asking.  His scores fit the emotions and the action every time.  His themes from television are iconic, and his work in films is top notch.  

Bill Conti, 60th Oscars (1987)
Bill Conti, 71st Oscars (1998)

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