Early Years and Musical Studies
John Towner Williams, generally known as John Williams, was born in the Flushing section of Queens, New York, on February 8, 1932. His father was a musician, and Williams started taking piano lessons at a young age. With his family, Williams moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1948. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles for a short time before being drafted into the U.S. Air Force in 1951.
After three years of military service, Williams returned to New York City, where he worked as a jazz pianist. He also attended the Juilliard School, studying with famed teacher Rosina Lhevinne in pursuit of his dream of becoming a concert pianist. However, Williams confessed in a 2012 interview with NPR that at Juilliard he heard “players like John Browning and Van Cliburn around the place, who were also students of Rosina’s, and I thought to myself, ‘If that’s the competition, I think I’d better be a composer!'”
Film and Television Composer Extraordinaire
Returning to Los Angeles, Williams became a movie studio musician. He was heard as a pianist on films such as Some Like It Hot (1959) and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Working with Henry Mancini, Williams also played piano on the theme for the television program Peter Gunn. Soon, Williams was composing his own music for TV. Shows that received Williams’s musical touch include Wagon Train, Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space.
Spielberg and ‘Star Wars’
Williams may be best known for his work with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Almost all of Spielberg’s films have Williams scores; their notable collaborations include Jaws (1975), E.T. (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Munich (2005) and Lincoln (2012). Williams also composed the music for George Lucas’s six Star Wars movies. In 2013, it was announced that Williams would write the score for Episode VII of Stars Wars as well.
The impressive body of work that Williams has created includes music for many other movies, such as Superman (1978), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Home Alone (1990), JFK (1991), Angela’s Ashes (1999), the first three Harry Potter films, Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and The Book Thief (2013). Williams is known for writing soaring scores that often feature recurring musical motives. In an ongoing career, he has worked on more than 100 films.