Burt Bacharach, Legendary Composer of Pop Songs, Dies at 94

Burt Bacharach, the singularly gifted and popular composer who delighted millions with the quirky arrangements and unforgettable melodies of “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and dozens of other hits, has died at 94.

The Grammy, Oscar and Tony-winning Bacharach died Wednesday at home in Los Angeles of natural causes, publicist Tina Brausam said Thursday.

Over the past 70 years, only Lennon-McCartney, Carole King and a handful of others rivaled his genius for instantly catchy songs that remained performed, played and hummed long after they were written. He had a run of top 10 hits from the 1950s into the 21st century, and his music was heard everywhere from movie soundtracks and radios to home stereo systems and iPods, whether “Alfie” and “I Say a Little Prayer” or “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.”

Dionne Warwick was his favorite interpreter, but Bacharach, usually in tandem with lyricist Hal David, also created prime material for Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and many others. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra were among the countless artists who covered his songs, with more recent performers who sung or sampled him including White Stripes, Twista and Ashanti. “Walk On By” alone was covered by everyone from Warwick and Isaac Hayes to the British punk band the Stranglers and Cyndi Lauper.

Bacharach was both an innovator and throwback, and his career seemed to run parallel to the rock era. He grew up on jazz and classical music and had little taste for rock when he was breaking into the business in the 1950s. His sensibility often seemed more aligned with Tin Pan Alley than with Bob Dylan, John Lennon and other writers who later emerged, but rock composers appreciated the depth of his seemingly old-fashioned sensibility.

“The shorthand version of him is that he’s something to do with easy listening,” Elvis Costello, who wrote the 1998 album “Painted from Memory” with Bacharach, said in a 2018 interview with The Associated Press. “It may be agreeable to listen to these songs, but there’s nothing easy about them. Try playing them. Try singing them.”

A box set, “The Songs of Bacharach & Costello,” is due to come out March 3.

He triumphed in many artforms. He was an eight-time Grammy winner, a prize-winning Broadway composer for “Promises, Promises” and a three-time Oscar winner. He received two Academy Awards in 1970, for the score of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and for the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (shared with David). In 1982, he and his then-wife, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, won for “Best That You Can Do,” the theme from “Arthur. His other movie soundtracks included “What’s New, Pussycat?”, “Alfie” and the 1967 James Bond spoof “Casino Royale.”

Bacharach was well rewarded, and well connected. He was a frequent guest at the White House, whether the president was Republican or Democrat. And in 2012, he was presented the Gershwin Prize by Barack Obama, who had sung a few seconds of “Walk on By” during a campaign appearance.

In his life, and in his music, he stood apart. Fellow songwriter Sammy Cahn liked to joke that the smiling, wavy-haired Bacharach was the first composer he ever knew who didn’t look like a dentist. Bacharach was a “swinger,” as they called such men in his time, whose many romances included actor Angie Dickinson, to whom he was married from 1965-80, and Sager, his wife from 1982-1991.

Married four times, he formed his most lasting ties to work. He was a perfectionist who took three weeks to write “Alfie” and might spend hours tweaking a single chord. Sager once observed that Bacharach’s life routines essentially stayed the same — only the wives changed.

It began with the melodies — strong yet interspersed with changing rhythms and surprising harmonics. He credited much of his style to his love of bebop and to his classical education, especially under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud, the famed composer. He once played a piece for piano, violin and oboe for Milhaud that contained a melody he was ashamed to have written, as 12-point atonal music was in vogue at the time. Milhaud, who liked the piece, advised the young man, “Never be afraid of the melody.”

“That was a great affirmation for me,” Bacharach recalled in 2004.

Bacharach was essentially a pop composer, but his songs became hits for country artists (Marty Robbins), rhythm and blues performers (Chuck Jackson), soul (Franklin, Luther Vandross) and synth-pop (Naked Eyes). He reached a new generation of listeners in the 1990s with the help of Costello and others.

Mike Myers would recall hearing the sultry “The Look of Love” on the radio and finding fast inspiration for his “Austin Powers” retro spy comedies, in which Bacharach made cameos.

In the 21st century, he was still testing new ground, writing his own lyrics and recording with rapper Dr. Dre.

He was married to his first wife, Paula Stewart, from 1953-58, and married for a fourth time, to Jane Hansen, in 1993. He is survived by Hansen, as well as his children Oliver, Raleigh and Cristopher, Brausam said. He was preceded in death by his daughter with Dickinson, Nikki Bacharach.

Bacharach knew the very heights of acclaim, but he remembered himself as a loner growing up, a short and self-conscious boy so uncomfortable with being Jewish he even taunted other Jews. His favorite book as a kid was Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”; he related to the sexually impotent Jake Barnes, regarding himself as “socially impotent.”

He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but soon moved to New York City. His father was a syndicated columnist, his mother a pianist who encouraged the boy to study music. Although he was more interested in sports, he practiced piano every day after school, not wanting to disappoint his mother. While still a minor, he would sneak into jazz clubs, bearing a fake ID, and hear such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie.

“They were just so incredibly exciting that all of a sudden, I got into music in a way I never had before,” he recalled in the memoir “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” published in 2013. “What I heard in those clubs turned my head around.”

He was a poor student, but managed to gain a spot at the music conservatory at McGill University in Montreal. He wrote his first song at McGill and listened for months to Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song.” Music also may have saved Bacharach’s life. He was drafted into the Army in the late 1940s and was still on active duty during the Korean War. But officers stateside soon learned of his gifts and wanted him around. When he did go overseas, it was to Germany, where he wrote orchestrations for a recreation center on the local military base.

After his discharge, he returned to New York and tried to break into the music business. He had little success at first as a songwriter, but he became a popular arranger and accompanist, touring with Vic Damone, the Ames Brothers and Stewart, his eventual first wife. When a friend who had been touring with Marlene Dietrich was unable to make a show in Las Vegas, he asked Bacharach to step in.

The young musician and ageless singer quickly clicked and Bacharach traveled the world with her in the late 1950s and early ’60s. During each performance, she would introduce him in grand style: “I would like you to meet the man, he’s my arranger, he’s my accompanist, he’s my conductor, and I wish I could say he’s my composer. But that isn’t true. He’s everybody’s composer … Burt Bacharach!”

Meanwhile, he had met his ideal songwriter partner — David, as businesslike as Bacharach was mercurial, so domesticated that he would leave each night at 5 to catch the train back to his family on Long Island. Working in a tiny office in Broadway’s celebrated Brill Building, they produced their first million-seller, “Magic Moments,” sung in 1958 by Perry Como. In 1962, they spotted a backup singer for the Drifters, Warwick, who had a “very special kind of grace and elegance,” Bacharach recalled.

The trio produced hit after hit. The songs were as complicated to record as they were easy to hear. Bacharach liked to experiment with time signatures and arrangements, such as having two pianists play on “Walk on By,” their performances just slightly out of sync to give the song “a jagged kind of feeling,” he wrote in his memoir.

The Bacharach-David partnership ended with the dismal failure of a 1973 musical remake of “Lost Horizon.” Bacharach became so depressed he isolated himself in his Del Mar vacation home and refused to work.

“I didn’t want to write with Hal or anybody,” he told the AP in 2004. Nor did he want to fulfill a commitment to record Warwick. She and David both sued him.

Bacharach and David eventually reconciled. When David died in 2012, Bacharach praised him for writing lyrics “like a miniature movie.”

Meanwhile, Bacharach kept working, vowing never to retire, always believing that a good song could make a difference.

“Music softens the heart, makes you feel something if it’s good, brings in emotion that you might not have felt before,” he told the AP in 2018. “It’s a very powerful thing if you’re able to do to it, if you have it in your heart to do something like that.”

Source: Voice of America

Sudan’s Tropical Disease Spike Reflects Poor Health System

The two Sudanese women thought they had malaria and were taking their medication, but things took a dire turn. Both complained of a splitting headache and fever that didn’t respond to the antimalaria treatment.

By the time she was diagnosed with dengue fever, Raqiya Abdsalam was unconscious.

“Soon after they examined me, I fell into a coma,” she said, recounting her ordeal some three months ago. Both women have since recovered and are at home in the city of El Obeid in the central province of North Kordofan.

For decades, Sudan’s underfunded public health sector has struggled to effectively diagnose or treat patients as significant government spending went to its vast security services. A recent spike in mosquito-borne diseases — such as dengue fever and malaria — has underscored the fragility of the African country’s health system, boding ill for future challenges driven by climate change.

Sudan’s best-equipped hospitals are concentrated in the capital, Khartoum, leaving those from far-flung provinces reliant on aid projects. But many of those have disappeared.

In October 2021, Sudan’s leading military figure, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, led a coup that derailed the country’s short-lived democratic transition. The move spurred a sharp reduction in aid, with the U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting that funding levels fell to less than 50% of required needs for both 2021 and 2022.

Burhan with his ruling generals and several other political forces pledged in December to install a new civilian government. But political wrangling is impeding a final deal, and it remains unclear when — and if — donor funding will return to previous levels.

In late fall, a young doctor at a North Kordofan hospital thought that what she was seeing was a new malaria outbreak. Patients arriving at her hospital had malaria-like symptoms — high fever, body fatigue and a migraine-like headache.

But after blood samples were sent to a laboratory in Khartoum for testing, a worrisome picture emerged. Some of the patients did have malaria, which is caused by a parasite, but others had dengue fever — similar in symptoms but caused by a virus. If severe and untreated, dengue fever can lead to organ failure and death.

The young physician said the hospital lacked the facilities to deal with the outbreak. “Patients had to either lie on the floor or bring their own beds to the hospital,’’ she said.

While malaria is common across central and southern Sudan, large dengue outbreaks are rare. But last fall and winter, dengue fever spread to 12 of the country’s 18 provinces, killing at least 36 people and infecting more than 5,200, according to Sudan’s Ministry of Health. However, the actual numbers are likely higher, given the limitations on testing.

‘‘Most hospitals outside of Khartoum are not connected to the Ministry of Health database,’’ said Alaaeldin Awad Mohamed Nogoud, a liver and transplant surgeon who is also a prominent pro-democracy activist.

The World Health Organization says several factors enabled the dengue outbreak, including the absence of disease surveillance infrastructure and heavy flooding in autumn. The stagnant water allowed mosquitoes to breed and fueled the spread of the disease.

Health experts also fear that growing mosquito migration, induced by climate change, could spur new surges in dengue fever, among other tropical diseases typically found beyond Sudan’s southern borders. The Aedes aegypti, a long-legged mosquito growing in number across Sudan that can carry the dengue virus, is causing particular concern.

According to Anne Wilson, an epidemiologist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, containing illnesses spread by the Aedes aegypti is difficult because it mostly bites during the day, rendering insecticide-treated nets, similar to mosquito nets for beds, less effective.

Sudan’s public hospitals are state-run, but patients often still pay for drugs and tests. Hospitals in rural areas are the most depleted, stocked with little more than metal-frame beds and doctors.

In North Kordofan — the site of the recent dengue outbreak — some believe the virus went unchecked for months due to a widespread lack of blood testing equipment. Abdsalam and Amany Adris, the two women from El Obeid, said several doctors had told them they had malaria before they were correctly diagnosed.

After the Ministry of Health officially recognized the outbreak in November, officials say free testing and treatment were made available to dengue fever patients. And by January, North Kordofan was declared free of dengue fever.

But even after that announcement, the young doctor from the province said she was treating suspected cases. Few patients can afford to pay for the blood tests themselves, however, she added.

Both Nogoud and the young physician said widespread shortages are forcing physicians to go to black market for basic medicines, such as paracetamol IV drips to treat fever.

For years, Sudan has been in an economic crisis with annual inflation topping 100% on most months. Since 2018, the Sudanese pound has lost over 95% of its value against the dollar, making it difficult to buy pharmaceuticals or medical equipment from abroad.

By the end of last year, Sudan’s National Medical Supplies Fund — the body tasked with procuring pharmaceuticals — said the availability of cancer drugs stood at 48% of needed levels, and other emergency medication was at 68%. Doctors, working with little pay and in difficult conditions, have regularly gone on strike.

Critics accuse the country’s leaders of not putting more funds towards the health sector. The federal budget for 2021, listed on the government’s website, said the country’s health ministry would receive less than half of what would be allocated to the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, the country’s largest paramilitary group. The military spokesperson did not respond to AP’s request for comment.

With few resources, the Health Ministry has turned to short videos on social media, encouraging people in a catchy song to cover standing water sources and install netting on windows.

Few see this as a long-term solution.

“The whole country is in a state of chaos,” said Nada Fadul, an infectious diseases physician and associate of the Sudanese non-governmental organization NexGen.

“Health care might not become the priority for survival,” Fadul added.

Source: Voice of America