The following is a guest post by Senior Music Specialist Mark Eden Horowitz.
Burt Bacharach, one of the greatest composers of American popular music has passed away. I knew him for two very memorable days.
Bacharach was the 2012 recipient of the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize (along with his frequent collaborator, the lyricist Hal David, who was too ill to travel to the Library). For reasons unknown to me, I was asked to be Burt’s escort for his visit, which also entailed my doing a show-and-tell for him and his family, and conducting a videotaped interview with him.
There are few more pleasurable things I get to do than show-and-tells for receptive audiences. At the Library the problem tends to be the wealth of possibilities to choose from. But when you’re doing a show-and-tell for someone like Burt Bacharach (and if you have some time to prepare), it’s thrilling to be able to research and tailor your choices to things you know will be particularly meaningful to them. Not only was Burt’s response at the time gratifying, but it was thrilling to see he recounted what I’d shown him in some detail in his memoir.
After the luncheon, Mark Horowitz, [a] senior music specialist at the Music Division of the Library of Congress, took us all downstairs. Set out on a long table for us to look at were original scores and music manuscripts by Beethoven, Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, Bernard Herrmann, Mozart, and Richard Rodgers. There was also an arrangement Benny Carter had done of “Alfie” from the Ella Fitzgerald Collection and original compositions by my three great teachers, Darius Milhaud, Henry Cowell, and Bohuslav Martinů.// I also got to look at the sheet music for what they told me was my first copyrighted composition, a song called “A Soldier’s Prayer,” which I had written with William Stephen Quigley when I was in the Army in 1951.
The “us” referenced above was Bacharach and his wife, Jane, and his children Raleigh and Oliver. One of the pleasures that afternoon and evening was watching Burt as a husband and a father. The way his face lit up at them, his obvious love and pride, and his enthusiasm as he pointed to things on the show-and-tell tables, explaining their significance.
The concert was that evening in the Library’s storied Coolidge Auditorium. The MC was Mike Myers, and performers included Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, and Diana Krall. I don’t remember exactly how it came about but, as I said, I was his escort and I was the one to bring him alone to the auditorium to make his grand entrance. We were running late. About ten minutes. Finally, I got him to the doors outside the hall when he sheepishly turned to me and requested the restroom. I rushed him to the men’s room a long hallway away. Of course, he was worth waiting for and one could feel and hear the waves of enthusiasm as he finally entered the Coolidge.
In 2013, Bacharach published his memoirs, Anyone Who Had a Heart, where it was moving to see that the last chapter was titled “The Gershwin Prize” and focused on his association with the Library as the capstone of his career. As he wrote in his book:
…a journalist from the Washington Post had called to ask what this award meant to me and how would I compare it to other awards I had received. I told him that with the Academy Award, someone opens an envelope and pulls out a card with your name on it and that sends a spike up your spine that is an unbelievable feeling. But the Academy Award s for just one song or one score. This award was for all of my work, and so for me, it was the best of all awards possible, and I meant that with all my heart.
The next afternoon we had scheduled an interview. I spent a few weeks preparing, inculcating myself in Bacharach’s biography and works, and becoming increasingly enthralled by the brilliance of his music. I made arrangements for his driver to be let in the gates to drop him at the front of the Library’s Jefferson Building. Apparently, the information never made it to the guards who refused to let the car in. I was horrified and apologetic, but Bacharach took it in stride and we hiked together up the drive and around three sides of the Library to get to the studio. To my awe I had trouble keeping up with his pace. Yes, I was nervous, but he could not have been more easygoing or comforting. I’m proud of the interview. It focused on the craft of composition, and I think we captured things that had not been captured before. You can make up your own minds. This kind, warm, talented man will be missed. His songs will never be forgotten.