John Williams Honored With Namesake Award At BMI Film, TV & Visual Media Awards

Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for BMI
Doreen Ringer-Ross, John Williams and Mike O’Neill at the 34th Annual BMI Film, TV & Visual Media Awards.

BMI honored legendary composer John Williams Wednesday night at the 34th annual Film, TV & Visual Media Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The 86-year old maestro was presented with the John Williams Award by BMI president/CEO Mike O’Neill and BMI  VP/Creative— Film, TV & Visual Media Doreen Ringer-Ross in recognition of his incomparable career in film and television composition. 

“There is almost no one on earth who wouldn’t recognize John’s music,” said O’Neill, noting that BMI has repped the 24-time Grammy winner since 1960.

In a moving taped piece, several composers, including Thomas Newman, David Newman, Alan Silvestri, James Newton Howard and Mike Post, talked about how Williams had influenced them. 

TV composer Sean Callery remembered sneaking in to see Jaws when he was 10. “By the end of the film, the shark had blown up and my world had blown up,” he said. “I had to learn how to do that.” Composer Brian Tyler simply said, “Aside from my parents, I can’t think of anyone who’s impacted me more.”

The film tribute also included directors Steven Spielberg, with whom Williams has made 34 movies; J.J. Abrams and George Lucas. Lucas declared that Williams was “the kindest, most considerate person to work with on this planet…or any other planet.” 

After receiving a long standing ovation, a gracious Williams noted, “Good fortune has come to me mainly in the form of people — parents, teachers, mentor, role models,” he said, reeling off the names of many composers who had influenced him just as he had the composers in the film. “Alfred and Lionel Newman, Conrad Salinger,  Bernard Herrmann, Andre Previn…These were all people who seemed to have a lot more faith in me than I had in myself,” he said. “In 1960, at Universal Studios, [music supervisor] Stanley Wilson had a music department. In the hallway there, there were five or six rooms, little rooms with no windows. And each room had a little piano and on any given day I would be in one room, Jerry Goldsmith in the next one, Lalo Schifrin in the next one, Quincy Jones in the next one, Morty Stevens, also Conrad Salinger and the late Bernard Herrmann, who made it his home for a couple of years and wrote some great music and drove everyone crazy. It was a situation where we taught each other and learned from each other and it was a group effort that produced the results that each one of us was able to accomplish.”

Williams, who has won five Academy Awards and scored such films as Jaws, Schindler’s List, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, E.T. and Harry Potter, continues to score the Star Wars series, including the forthcoming Star Wars Episode IX, directed by Abrams, which opens in theaters in December 2019.  In addition to the special award bearing his name, he received his 34th and 35th BMI Awards  Wednesday night for his work on The Post and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. 

Earlier in the evening, award-winning composers Laura Karpman, Miriam Cutler and Lolita Ritmanis received the BMI Champion Award for their commitment to supporting fellow women media composers through The Alliance of Women Film Composers, which they founded in 2014. 

Ringer-Ross recalled that BMI’s first luncheon for female composers years ago included only “five female working composers and two of them used to be men.” While the landscape has slightly improved, there is still much work to be done in terms of getting women composers on equal footing with their male counterparts, as was evident by the handful of female composers who received awards throughout the night.

Since its launch four years ago, the AWFC has grown to 300 composers as “the quest for equal opportunities to compete for the projects that inspire us” continues, noted Cutler.

Ritmanis told of conducting at a pop concert featuring music from superhero films a few years ago and a mother and daughter later approached her. “The young daughter said, ‘I’d never seen a girl up there. Are girls allowed to do this’?” Ritmanis said. “That little girl brings me up here tonight.” 

Composer Rick Baitz was presented with BMI’s Classic Contribution Award in appreciation for creating and leading BMI’s successful Composing for the Screen workshop for the past 10 years. In a full-circle moment, Baitz recalled that in 1980, he took his first film scoring seminar with none other than Williams at Tanglewood in Boston and praised him for his generous spirit. “That gift is what I try to take forward in my own teaching,” he said. 

Throughout the evening, additional notable composers, including Howard, Tyler, Silvestri, Ludwig Göransson, Tyler Bates, Christopher Lennertz, Regina Spektor, and Fil Eisler were honored for music featured in the past year’s top-grossing films, top-rated primetime network television series and highest-ranking cable and streamed media programs.

For a full list of winners, go to bmi.com.