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Williams, John

| Wil-lee-ams |

It’s likely more people around the world know some music written by John Williams than they do Bach or Beethoven. From Star Wars to Harry Potter, via Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, his music for films has made him a bit of a superstar. Here’s everything you ought to know about the legendary composer.

Who is John Williams

When and where was John Williams born?

Williams was born on 8 February 1932 in the small community of Floral Park on Long Island, NY. His father, ‘Johnny’ Williams Sr., was a jazz drummer from Maine and his mother, Esther, was from Boston. His middle name is Towner, which was in fact his mother’s maiden name.


Has John Williams got any siblings?

The composer is the eldest of four! He has two brothers, Don and Jerry, and a sister, Joan. Both brothers are talented musicians in their own right, primarily percussionists. Don is also an arranger and conductor. They perform regularly in Hollywood orchestras and have appeared on many of their brother’s film scores.

Is John Williams married?

Williams was married the American actress and singer Barbara Ruick from 1956 until her death in 1974. He married the American photographer Samantha Winslow in 1980.

Does John Williams have children?

Yes, Williams has three children (with Ruick). Joseph Williams a musician and composer, perhaps best known as the lead singer of the band Toto. Mark Towner Williams is a drummer, much in demand as a session music. Jennifer (Jenny) Williams-Gruska is a psychotherapist.

What about grandchildren?

Williams has several grandchildren. Siblings Ethan and Barbara Gruska are better known as the vocal and instrumental duo ‘The Belle Brigade’, while his grandson Lionel Williams is the musician and multimedia artist known as ‘Vinyl Williams’. His granddaughter Hannah Ruick is a singer-songwriter.

What took John Williams to Hollywood?

Williams’s father moved the family to Los Angeles in the late ’40s, when Johnny Sr. took up a position as percussionist in the Columbia Studio Orchestra. As a result the teenage Williams grew up around film scoring, alongside the jazz which was popular in the family home.

How did John Williams’s film career start?

Williams was an accomplished pianist as a youngster and his ability to sightread quickly meant he was perfect as a performer for film scoring sessions. He played piano in a number of film score/soundtrack recordings, including those for Some Like it Hot, Touch of Evil and West Side Story. You could say he learned his craft on the job; where better to get a grasp of what it takes to compose and conduct film scores than on the stage at Twentieth Century Fox? Williams worked under legendary composers like Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann, going on to write arrangements. Soon he was writing his own scores for television, and then film.

What was John Williams’s first film score?

Williams’s first feature film credit is for 1958’s Daddy-O (also known as Downbeat). He cut his teeth on TV shows like Playhouse 90, M Squad and Bachelor Father. His early scores were written under the name ‘Johnny’ Williams, which he went by professionally until the late 1960s.

What is John Williams’s most famous film score?

There are too many to count really. He has written music for some of the world’s most popular films and franchises, beginning with the first true blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). Two years later he scored George Lucas’s Star Wars (aka Episode IV – A New Hope). Those and his ‘Raiders March’ from 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (the first Indiana Jones film) are probably the most familiar…. But then there’s Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Superman – The Movie. See, too many!

How many Oscars has John Williams won?

John Williams has won five Oscars for his music. He won his  first Oscar in 1972 for the musical Fiddler on the Roof, and Oscars followed for Jaws, Star Wars, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, and Schindler’s List. He has also had more than 50 Oscar nominations – and is the most-nominated living person in the history of the Oscars. #funfact

Recommended Recordings…

John Williams in Vienna (DG)

John Williams Conducts The Star Wars Trilogy (Sony Classical)

John Williams & Steven Spielberg – The Ultimate Collection (Sony Classical)


Read our reviews of the latest John Williams recordings here

About Michael Beek

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He joined the team in May 2018, following ten years as a freelance film music journalist and fifteen years at St George’s Bristol – where he was everything from Box Office Supervisor to the venue’s Content & Engagement Manager. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of Music from the He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records. Also a presenter, Michael has hosted concerts and live events for Bristol Film Festival and St George’s Bristol, plus Debbie Wiseman’s ‘Music and Words from Wolf Hall’ at venues across the UK.