Burt Bacharach: US composer behind I Say a Little Prayer dies aged 94

More than 1,200 artists, including the Beatles and Elvis Costello, performed his songs, which won six Grammys and three Oscars

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Composer Burt Bacharach, whose hits such as I Say a Little Prayer and Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head provided a mellow alternative soundtrack to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s and 1970s, has died at the age of 94, his publicist said on Thursday.

Bacharach died of natural causes at his home in the Los Angeles area on Wednesday, with his family by his side.

His songs were neither rock nor strictly pop. They filled American radio and were featured in major movies, making them as frequently heard in the 1960s and early 1970s as works by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

Bacharach wrote more than 500 songs, many featuring a tinkling piano and subtly seductive horn hooks. He wrote hits for singers ranging from Dionne Warwick to the Carpenters.

More than 1,200 artists performed his songs, which won six Grammys and three Oscars. Bacharach and collaborator Hal David had 30 Top-40 hits in the ’60s alone.

“He was just different,” David once told an interviewer. “Innovative, original. His music spoke to me. I'd hear his melodies and I'd hear lyrics. I'd hear rhymes, I'd hear thoughts and I'd hear it almost immediately.”

For Bacharach, his talent was simple: “I'm a person that always tries to deal with melody.”

With suave good looks and a cool demeanour, Bacharach was described by songwriter Sammy Cahn as “the only songwriter who doesn't look like a dentist”.

Married four times, his wives included fellow songwriter Carole Bayer Sager and actress Angie Dickinson.

Bacharach's songs were recorded by an A-to-Z of artists, literally, from Aretha (Franklin) to Zoot (Sims).

The Bacharach-David collaboration (They Long to Be) Close to You was a worldwide hit for the Carpenters in 1970 and What the World Needs Now Is Love, originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, was covered more than 150 times.

Bacharach and David frequently displayed a magic touch for Warwick, writing her hits I Say a Little Prayer, In Between the Heartaches and Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Bacharach's Alfie for the Michael Caine movie of the same name was a hit for Cilla Black and Tom Jones sang his title tune for Woody Allen's What's New Pussycat?

Other movie music from Bacharach included Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for which Bacharach and David won two Academy Awards and a Grammy for best score.

His Baby, It's You was recorded by the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Gene Pitney and Perry Como.

Arthur's Theme by Christopher Cross from the Dudley Moore comedy Arthur brought Bacharach a third Oscar. It was a collaboration with Bayer Sager, who became his third wife in 1982. They had a son, Christopher, in 1986 and divorced in 1991.

He continued composing with partners, including British rocker Elvis Costello.

Born Burt Freeman Bacharach in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 12, 1928, he learnt to play the piano — he hated it at first but his mother insisted — after his family moved to New York.

Bacharach served in the US Army during the Korean War but wore a tuxedo instead of military fatigues and played piano in officers' clubs across America.

“I was not an overnight success. I went a long time with a lot of rejection, so you’ve got to have the stomach for that, too,” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: February 10, 2023, 11:25 AM