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Burt Bacharach has died aged 94

The composer wrote some of the greatest songs of the last century

Burt Bacharach
© Dan Wooller

Songwriter and performer Burt Bacharach has died in his Los Angeles home at the age of 94.

Often in collaboration with lyricist Hal David, Bacharach wrote 73 Top 40 hits in the United States during a career that spanned the better part of a century. Those songs include "What the World Needs Now Is Love," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," and "I Say a Little Prayer." Bacharach won eight Grammys and three Oscars, two for his work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and one for the theme from the 1981 film Arthur.

Bacharach was also the composer of the 1968 musical Promises, Promises, which played 1,281 performances (and 7 previews) at the Shubert Theatre. Bacharach won the 1969 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music, but he never returned to write another Broadway show.

"I got turned off during Promises, Promises," Bacharach told our sibling sister TheaterMania in a 2021 interview, telling the story of how there were five substitutes in the orchestra the afternoon Richard Rodgers came to see the show. "I go into a studio and I know what I can get in a studio. It goes on tape, it's there, and it's done. It must have been OK, because I did get a letter from Richard Rodgers telling me how much he appreciated what I had done musically. But five subs on a Sunday afternoon? It was really a turn off, and I didn't want to deal with that anymore."

While Bacharach never wrote another Broadway score, Promises, Promises returned for a 2010 revival staring Kristen Chenoweth and Sean Hayes.

And in 2013, New York Theatre Workshop hosted the debut of What's It all About? Bacharach Reimagined, a concert musical that TheaterMania's critic described as "an auditory smorgasbord that exposes the endless possibilities in a simple melody."

Bacharach was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1928. Classically trained in music, he served two years in the US Army in the early 50s, during which he played piano at various officers' clubs. He toured Europe with Marlene Dietrich, working as her arranger and conductor in the late 50s. He met Hal David at the Brill building in 1957 and soon after wrote their first number one hit, "The Story of My Life."

Bacharach had a particularly successful collaboration with singer Dionne Warwick, who made hit recordings of songs like "Alfie," "I Say a Little Prayer," "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

He was still working into his 90s, collaborating with Spring Awakening lyricist Steven Sater on the concept album Some Lovers, a riff on The Gift of the Magi. "It's foolish of me not to carry music paper or a little pad I could write on," admitted the composer, who always seemed to have a catchy new melody percolating in his brain.