Barry was educated at St Peter's School, York, and also received composition lessons from Francis Jackson, Organist of York Minster. Living in his native England until the mid 1970s, Barry spent some time in Spain (for tax reasons) but has since lived in the United States, mainly in Oyster Bay outside New York.
Barry has been married four times. His first three marriages ended in divorce: Barbara Pickard 1959-63; Jane Birkin 1965-68; and Jane Sidey 1969-71. He married his current wife, Laurie Barry on 3 January 1978. Barry has three children, one each from his first, second, and fourth marriages.
His family was in the cinema business, but it was during his National Service that he began performing as a musician. After taking a correspondence course (with jazz composer Bill Russo) and arranging for some of the bands of the day, he formed the John Barry Seven. Barry then met Adam Faith, and composed songs, along with Les Vandyke, and film scores on the singer's behalf.
These achievements caught the attention of the producers of a new film called Dr. No who were dissatisfied with the score given to them by Monty Norman. Barry was hired and the result would arguably be the most famous signature tune in film history, the "James Bond Theme". (Credit goes to Monty Norman, see below.)
This would be the turning point for Barry, as he would go on to become one of the most celebrated film composers of modern times, winning five Academy Awards and four Grammy Awards, with such memorable scores written for The Lion in Winter, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free, and Somewhere In Time.
Barry is often cited as having a distinct style which concentrates on lush strings and extensive use of brass. However he is also an innovator, being one of the first to employ synthesisers in a film score (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), and to make wide use of pop artists and songs in Midnight Cowboy. (Note that while The Graduate came a few years before, those songs had mostly been previously released.)
Barry is also known for the famous score he wrote for the theme tune for TV series The Persuaders!, also known as "The Unlucky Heroes", in which Tony Curtis and Roger Moore were paired as rich playboys solving crimes. The theme went to be a hit single in some European Countries and has been re-released on collections of 1970s disco hits. The instrumental recording features Moog synthesisers. Barry also wrote the scores to a number of musicals, including Passion Flower Hotel (lyrics by Trevor Peacock). the successful West End show Billy (lyrics by Don Black) and two major Broadway flops, The Little Prince and the Aviator and Lolita, My Love, the latter with Alan Jay Lerner as lyricist.
During 2006, Barry was the executive producer on an album entitled Here's to the Heroes by the Australian ensemble The Ten Tenors. The album features a number of songs Barry wrote in collaboration with his lyricist friend, Don Black.
Barry's orchestration very often combines the horn section with the strings in a way that makes his music immediately recognisable. By providing not just the main title theme but the complete soundtrack score, Barry's music often enhances the critical reception of a film, notably in Midnight Cowboy, Out of Africa, and Dances with Wolves.
October 2007 saw John Barry announce a deal with Universal Music France for 2 albums scheduled for early 2008. These will be his first solo works for 7 years, and are expected to be a jazz based album and another concept orchestral album along the same lines as The Beyondness of Things and Eternal Echoes.
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