Burt Bacharach Dies At 94

By Terrance Turner

Feb. 9, 2023

KRAFT MUSIC HALL — “The Sounds of Burt Bacharach” Episode 1208 — Pictured: Musician/songwriter Burt Bacharach — (Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Legendary composer and arranger Burt Bacharach has died. He was 94.

Bacharach died of natural causes at home in Los Angeles, according to his publicist Tina Brausam. He is survived by his fourth wife, Jane Hansen, and three children.

Burt Bacharach is perhaps best known for his collaborations with lyricist Hal David and singer Dionne Warwick. But his impact on the world of music is titanic. With David, he wrote a series of intricately crafted but catchy and memorable songs that are almost too numerous to name. And he did it all with a style all his own. “Mr. Bacharach fused the chromatic harmonies and long, angular melodies of late-19th-century symphonic music with modern, bubbly pop orchestration,” noted the New York Times.

Rolling Stone added: “Raised on jazz and classical and not rock and roll, Bacharach brought a level of melodic sophistication and romanticism — unconventional 5/4 time signatures and melodies that didn’t stick to standard iambic pentameter — into the Top 40.” His shifting time signatures and unusual melodies helped form a signature style: “Odd bar lines, odd time signatures, things that musicians couldn’t play in the studio when we were recording,” Bacharach said in 1979. “I was always swimming upstream, breaking rules.”

Early Life

Burt Freeman Bacharach was born in on May 12, 1928. Kansas City, Missouri. His father, Bert Bacharach, was a journalist and columnist who moved the family to Forest Hills in Queens, New York, in 1932. His mother Irma (Freeman) Bacharach was an amateur singer and pianist who encouraged him to study music He learned cello, drums and piano, per the New York Times.

Burt wanted to be an athlete; he hated taking piano lessons. He only did them to please his mother. But while underage, he snuck into Manhattan jazz clubs with a fake ID and listened to jazz musicians like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. They made a huge impression on him. “They were just so incredibly exciting that all of a sudden, I got into music in a way I never had before,” he wrote in his 2013 memoir. “Hearing them,” he said in 1998, “was like a window opening.”


Subsequently, young Burt took an interest in music. After graduating from Forest Hills High School, he got into McGill University, a music conservatory in Montreal. There, he studied music and wrote his first song: “The Night Plane to Heaven”. But he didn’t see himself having a career in music. “I didn’t really have a lot of ambition in life. I didn’t know where I was gonna go,” he later said. “You might say I floated and let things happen to me.”


In 1950, Bacharach began serving a two-year stint in the Army. He played piano at army bases, and word got around. Officers stateside soon learned of his gifts and wanted him around. While in the Army, he met the singer Vic Damone. And after being discharged, Bacharach found work as Damone’s accompanist.

In 1957, he met lyricist Hal David. They started writing songs together. They scored their first hit the next year, with “Magic Moments” (for singer Perry Como). It hit No. 4 on the American charts and No. 1 in the UK. That same year, in 1958, Bacharach became bandleader and conductor for the German singer and actress Marlene Dietrich. He kept that gig on and off for the next six years.

Bacharach traveled the world with Dietrich in the late 1950s and early ’60s. According to the Associated Press, Dietrich introduced him to her audiences. During each performance, she would introduce him in grand style: “I would like you to meet the man, he’s my arranger, he’s my accompanist, he’s my conductor, and I wish I could say he’s my composer. But that isn’t true. He’s everybody’s composer … Burt Bacharach!”

German actress and singer Marlene Dietrich (1901 – 1992) at London Airport, to welcome American composer Burt Bacharach (centre) to the UK, 21st November 1964. (Photo by Dove/Express/Getty Images)


In 1961, Bacharach and David hit No. 8 on the Billboard chart (and No. 3 on the R&B chart) with “Baby It’s You,” for the girl group the Shirelles. The next year, they worked with the R&B group The Drifters. Bacharach finally wrote some songs he liked: “I very rarely liked the way my songs got done. I did like a couple of hits I had with The Drifters, produced by Leiber and Stoller because they were really good. They knew what they were doing. I had “Mexican Divorce” and “Please Stay” with them.”

While working with the Drifters on “Mexican Divorce”, Bacharach and David met a background singer from New Jersey. Her name was Dionne Warwick.

Photo from The Telegraph.

Dionne Warwick

Warwick made an instant impression on Bacharach. “Right from the first time I ever saw Dionne, I thought she had a very special kind of grace and elegance,” Bacharach said in 2013. “She had really high cheekbones and long legs, and she was wearing sneakers, and her hair was in pigtails. The more Hal and I worked with her, the more we saw what she could do. Dionne could sing that high, and she could sing that low.”

In Warwick, Bacharach and David found the perfect singer for their songs. “Bacharach realized he had found the rare vocalist with the technical prowess to negotiate his rangy, fiercely difficult melodies, with their tricky time signatures and extended asymmetrical phrases,” noted the Times. Music critics Wilson and Alroy were more blunt: “Warwick’s flexible, subtle, always convincing voice made Bacharach/David’s songs seem better than they were, while Bacharach’s tricky, elegant melodies made Warwick seem like a better singer than she was.”

Making Over — But Not Making It Easy

The partnership got off to a good start — at first. Bacharach and David asked Warwick to record demonstration vocals for them. She agreed. She instantly fell in love with a song they’d written called “Make It Easy on Yourself”. Bacharach liked the song, too. He said later that doing the orchestration himself helped him find his voice as a writer. Later, he and David asked her to record as a solo artist. Warwick (eventually) got approval from her parents, on the condition that she only record on weekends. She also wanted “Make It Easy” to be her first single. They agreed.

“So I signed a production agreement with David and Hal,” Warwick wrote in her autobiography. “They were elated. And I went back to Hartt [College] very happy and excited.” But things quickly changed. Warwick was driving home from school one day when she heard singer Jerry Butler’s version of “Make It Easy On Yourself” on the radio. They’d given the song to Butler!

Warwick angrily confronted Bacharach and David. “I am who I am. Don’t make me over!” she told them. That outburst inspired them to write “Don’t Make Me Over”. That song became Warwick’s first Top 40 hit, climbing to No. 21 on the pop chart. (It was Top 5 R&B.)


Series of Successes

More hits followed, including “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (1963). The song was Warwick’s first Top 10 hit (No. 8 pop). It sold a million copies. And so did the follow-up single, “Walk on By.”

“Walk On By” (1964)

Recorded at the same late 1963 session as “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, “Walk On By”, became one of Warwick’s most memorable songs. It stood out for several reasons. Billboard noted the song’s opening: “It’s not a long instrumental intro to “Walk on By” — just two measures — but it all clips along on the same uneasy A minor chord, not shifting even once Warwick’s vocal begins.” It takes 10 seconds before the song shifts to a D minor chord, finally breaking the tension.

On the title line, Warwick’s voice — which had gradually been getting lower — jumps up to a high, airy head voice: Walk on by…” followed by an instrumental riff. Billboard added: “Warwick’s delivery of the title phrase is arresting on its own, but what ensures that it’s totally unforgettable is the staccato, six-note muted trumpet riff that follows it, courtesy of players Irwin Markowitz and Ernie Royal.”

And at the end of the first chorus, there’s a major shift: “The lightly brushed drums, quietly chirping guitars and sympathetic strings that have been carrying the song to that point drop out entirely, replaced by a dramatic syncopated piano riff,” wrote Billboard’s Andrew Unterberger. He called the moment “a revelation”.


Wilson and Alroy said the song “puts together an unusual rhythm (3 + 3 + 2), an unforgettable melody, and a moving vocal performance – it may be the quintessential Bacharach/Warwick combination.” It became one of the most successful, too. “Walk On By” was Warwick’s biggest hit yet, peaking at NO. 6 on the Billboard pop charts and No. 1 R&B. It, too, sold over a million copies.

Alfie” (1966)

Bacharach and David wrote this song for a film (more on that later). Warwick wasn’t exactly excited to record this song. She wrote in her autobiography: “To be honest, I did not want to record the song […] I did it only because we needed another song to complete an album.” But as luck would have it, her version was the most successful. “Alfie” went to No. 5 on the R&B charts and was a top 20 pop hit.

“Alfie” was just one of several hit songs on Warwick’s next album, Here Where There Is Love. The album was Warwick’s first gold album, selling over 500,000 copies. It hit No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart. And it provided a string of hit singles.

What The World Needs Now Is Love” (1967)

This song was a (subtle) protest of the Vietnam War. But Warwick didn’t like that song, either. Bacharach said: “Dionne rejected that song. She might have thought it was too preachy and I thought Dionne was probably right. Hal pushed me to play it for Jackie De Shannon who we were gonna record. Otherwise I would have let it be and it would still be in the drawer. Once I heard Jackie sing four bars of it, I thought “Jesus, this is great.” Jackie had such a great voice. Love her voice.” But Warwick recorded the song in 1966 for her album. It was released in October 1967.

I Say a Little Prayer” (1967)

This song was also inspired by the war. Bacharach and David wrote it from the perspective of a woman whose man was overseas in Vietnam. The aim, Warwick said, was “letting those babies — ’cause that’s what they were: young, young, young men (and women) — letting them know we love them [and] miss them.” The song hit No. 4 on the Hot 100 (No. 8 R&B), but Bacharach felt he hadn’t gotten the timing right: “I think I made the tempo a little too fast, a little bit too nervous,” he said later. “I Say A Little Prayer” with Aretha (Franklin) is just a better record.” 


Marriage and Film Work

In 1965, Bacharach married his second wife, actress Angie Dickinson. Shortly afterward, he began branching out into the film world, composing songs and score for several hit films.

Burt Bacharach with wife Angie Dickinson. April 1965. (Photo by Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Sixties Icons, 1st April 1965, Portrait of American composer and songwriter Burt Bacharach, who was famous for creating some of the most popular and memorable tunes of the sixties, stands with glamorous actress Angie Dickinson (Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Alfie” (1966)

In 1966, Bacharach and David collaborated on the theme song to Alfie, a film about a womanizing bachelor. Bacharach arranged for David to receive a copy of the film’s script to see what the film was really about. David used a line by the title character (played by Michael Caine), “What’s it all about?” as an opening line. Bacharach loved the finished product. He told Pop Entertainment:

“Alfie” could be as close to the best song Hal and I ever wrote. It was a hard one to write because most of it had to be said lyrically at first. I had to set it musically and it was challenging but it turned out great. We went in and recorded it quickly with Dionne because the original record was with Cher. Sonny (Bono) made the record with Cher and that was different than how I had envisioned it.

Pop Entertainment

Bacharach and David were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Warwick performed the song at the ceremony. And the song made it onto her next album, Here Where There Is Love.


“Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” (1969)

Both Bacharach and David won Oscars for their work on the soundtrack and score to the hit film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Their song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won best original song.

(Original Caption) For “Best Song in a Movie” for 1969, composer Burt Bacharach (left) and lyricist Hal David hold Oscars they won for “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” at the Academy Awards.

This story will be updated.

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