Composer John Williams received his first Oscar nomination in 1969 for the score to Valley of the Dolls, and since then, with more than 40 other Oscar nominations for his original film scores and orchestrations, he has become the most widely recognized film composer in history, charming cinema audiences with music rooted in symphonic idioms that easily expresses the emotion and action of a film's story.
Williams grew up in New York, where his father was drummer in the Raymond Scott Quintette and other bands. All four children in the family naturally took music lessons. Williams studied piano as a child, and later trumpet, trombone, and clarinet. He did some work as a teenager with pianist and arranger Bobby van Epps, and also enrolled in composition classes at UCLA before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1951, where he arranged band music and took up conducting. Williams studied piano with Rosina Lhevinne at Juilliard and worked as a jazz pianist. He then returned to California and studied composition with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
His compositional career began in the early 1960s with television series such as Peter Gunn, Wagon Train, Gilligan's Island, and Lost in Space. He was able to work as an orchestrator and arranger with industry giants Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Alfred Newman, Henry Mancini, and André Previn. In 1972 he received his first Academy Award for his adaptation of Jerry Bock's music for Fiddler on the Roof, but it was his scores for Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) and George Lucas' Star Wars (1977) that brought him real notice. Those full, orchestral scores led some to claim that he alone was responsible for reviving the symphonic style of film music and were the beginning of two long-standing composer/director partnerships.
A public face appeared to go with the name when Williams was chosen to conduct the Boston Pops after Arthur Fiedler's death. Under his leadership, the orchestra maintained its popularity, toured America several times, and made concert versions of his movie themes regular pops fare. Although maintaining close ties to Boston after leaving the Pops in 1993 and continuing to guest conduct a number of orchestras, Williams has spent some of his time composing concert music, such as 1995's bassoon concerto The Five Sacred Trees and 2000's violin concerto TreeSong.
Among the many honors Williams has received, in 2003 the International Olympic Committee gave him the Olympic Order for his work with the Games, and in 2009 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. In 2016 the American Film Institute honored him as the first composer to receive its Lifetime Achievement Award.