James Newton Howard

Active - 1967 - 2022  |   Born - Jun 9, 1951 in Los Angeles, California, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Crime, Romance

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Biography by Lucia Bozzola

Throughout his prolific career, composer/musician/songwriter James Newton Howard has scored films of all scales and genres, earning multiple award nominations for his work. Los Angeles-born Howard began studying music as a small child and went on to attend the Santa Barbara Music Academy and then majored in piano performance at the University of Southern California. After Howard left college, he toured with Elton John as a keyboardist during the late 1970s and early 1980s before moving into film music in the mid-1980s.

By the 1990s, Howard truly hit his career stride, scoring the surprise blockbuster romantic comedy Pretty Woman (1990) and receiving his first Oscar nomination for Barbra Streisand's drama The Prince of Tides (1991). Setting the musical mood for numerous films throughout the decade, Howard's skills encompassed a plethora of genres, including the Oscar-nominated actioner The Fugitive (1993), the Western epic Wyatt Earp (1994), the legal drama Primal Fear (1996), the blockbuster suspense thriller The Sixth Sense (1999), and two more Julia Roberts romantic comedy hits, My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) and Runaway Bride (1999). My Best Friend's Wedding earned Howard his third Oscar nomination for Best Score (his collaborations on tunes for One Fine Day (1996) and Junior (1994) garnered Best Song nods). Along with scoring such smaller, character-driven films as Five Corners (1988), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and American Heart (1993), Howard proved equally skilled at composing for big-budget Hollywood spectacles, including Space Jam (1996), Dante's Peak (1997), and Dinosaur (2000). Though he concentrated primarily on films, Howard also contributed music for TV shows, earning an Emmy nomination in 1995 for his theme to NBC's ratings smash ER.

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  • Father died when he was 10; 25 years later Howard discovered his family name had been Howeritz. It was later changed to Howard, possibly to conceal Jewish heritage.
  • Grandmother was a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony.
  • Trained in classical music, but spent much of the 1970s and 1980s in the rock-and-roll scene, first with a band called Mama Lion, then with a pair of solo albums, and ultimately for several years as a session musician for Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Eric Clapton and others.
  • Joined Elton John's band on tour and in the studio in the mid-1970s, and later was the conductor for John's album Live in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (1987).
  • Started scoring films in the 1980s, beginning with the 1985 comedy Head Office, starring Judge Reinhold and Eddie Albert.
  • Wrote the Emmy-nominated theme to long-running NBC drama ER (1994-2009).