Born c. 1950 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; immigrated to U.S., 1971. First wife named Rebecca; married Linda Thompson (a songwriter); children: (first marriage) four daughters, (second marriage) two stepsons. Education: Studied music at University of Washington. Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
David Foster started his music career at the age of five in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He began with piano lessons, and his talent quickly distinguished him from the other children his age. When he turned 13, Foster enrolled at the University of Washington to study music. He launched his professional career three years later when he joined the backup band of rock and roll legend Chuck Berry.
Foster moved to Los Angeles in 1971 with his band Skylark. In 1973 Skylark's song "Wildflower" reached Number Nine on the Billboard charts. Foster parlayed that milestone into a career as a session keyboard player. When Skylark disbanded and its members decided to return to Canada, Foster remained in Los Angeles. "I had this overwhelming desire to meet all the great musicians and play with them. I was young and hungry, and a very positive thinker," Foster told Keyboard.
He played keyboards in the orchestra pit for the Roxy Theatre's production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a year and eventually became the show's co-director. Rocky Horror garnered considerable recognition, and many producers and musicians noticed Foster's talents when they attended performances. The orchestra would play whatever the conductor chose for half an hour before the show. When people in the music industry heard Foster play keyboards, they began calling him to participate in their recording sessions during the day.
Foster built a strong reputation as a talented session keyboard player, working with such stars as John Lennon, George Harrison, Barbra Streisand, and Rod Stewart. He added his input to songwriting and arangement in sessions and eventually worked his way into producing and writing his own songs. His early production clients included Alice Cooper, the Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, and Carole Bayer Sager.
The turning point in Foster's production career came in a conversation with fellow producer Quincy Jones. "We were talking about the Average White Band's album, Shine, and I said, 'It's not bad, but it's not a great album. The songs aren't that good.' He said, 'Who produced it?' I said, 'I did.' He said, 'You've just messed up in a big way. Your name's on there. You're responsible for that record. It's got to be absolutely the best you can do.'" Foster realized then that he needed to demand the best from the artists with whom he worked to make the best album he could.
Foster earned his first big-name producing credit with two albums by Daryl Hall and John Oates, and he continued to take Jones's words to heart. He not only proved he could recognize good songs, he confirmed he could write them as well. In 1979 he won his first Grammy Award, for best rhythm and blues song, for co-writing Earth, Wind and Fire's "After the Love Has Gone" with Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin.
Three years later he received his second Grammy, for producer of the year, for the cast album of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Dreamgirls. The album climbed to Number 11 on the Billboard charts, the highest-charting cast recording since Hair in 1969. Foster gained further accolades when Chicago's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry," from Chicago 16, which he cowrote and produced, reached Number One on the Billboard charts.
Foster released his first solo album, Best of Me, on a Japanese label. Then, Sound Design Records released it in the United States in 1982. The following year, Foster produced Lionel Richie's album Can't Slow Down, which sold a whopping ten million copies. By that time, he had cemented his place as one of popular music's top producers. Yet he refused to rest on his laurels, relishing the variety his prominence allowed him. "I know I've done a little too much jumping around already in my career," Foster told Paul Green of Billboard. "Someone once described me as a person who couldn't keep a job. But I love the fact that I can produce the Tubes and get a big AOR [album-oriented rock] hit and turn around and do a solo album that sounds like 'Love Story '83' and then also work with the R&B acts."
Foster continued producing and writing virtually nonstop. In 1984 he earned his third and fourth Grammy awards: for Chicago's Chicago 17, he received another producer of the year award, and for the song "Hard Habit to Break," he was recognized for best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocals.
But his nonstop work pace started to take its toll; after a lifetime of 16-hour days, Foster reached a point of such mental and physical exhaustion that he thought he'd lost his magical musical touch. He decided to return to Canada with his wife Rebecca and take a break. Just as he had settled in, Quincy Jones called and asked him to write and produce the Canadian answer to the English Band-Aid project and the American "We Are the World" efforts to raise money for hunger relief in Africa. He rose to the occasion, composing and producing Northern Lights' "Tears Are Not Enough." When a video about the production hit Canadian TV, Foster gained the recognition that had eluded him in his homeland. Indeed, though many Canadians knew Foster's work, they did not realize that he was Canadian.
Giving up on his hiatus, he went back to Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, the magic touch clearly still with him, he produced the hit single "Somewhere" for Barbra Streisand's Broadway Album, for which he won his fifth Grammy.
Beginning on May 5, 1984, when "Stay the Night"--the first single from Chicago 17--debuted at Number 49, Foster had at least one single on Billboard's Hot 100 chart every week until April 12, 1986. During most weeks of that two-year period, he had two or more records on the chart simultaneously. And in August of 1985 he had a remarkable five singles on the chart at the same time.
Foster released a self-titled album on Atlantic Records in 1986, which included a duet with Olivia Newton-John. Also that year he established the David Foster Foundation to assist families of children who need organ transplants, and the David Foster Celebrity Softball Game in Victoria, British Columbia, to raise funds for the foundation.
His next solo album, The Symphony Sessions, appeared in record stores in 1988. The disc featured Foster performing his compositions with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and included "Winter Games," the song he wrote for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. A one-hour TV special, David Foster: The Symphony Sessions, aired on CBC-TV in Toronto to promote the album, and the video arm of Atlantic Records released it as a 36-minute home video. Also that year, Foster received the Order of Canada for his humanitarian efforts.
The Symphony Sessions showcased a reworked rendition of Foster's Golden Globe-nominated theme for the movie The Secret of My Success. It is just one of the songs Foster has penned for films during his career, among them St. Elmo's Fire, Urban Cowboy, Summer Lovers, One Good Cop, If Looks Could Kill, and Karate Kid Part II.
Foster released River of Love in 1990, which included the single "Grown-Up Christmas," sung by Natalie Cole. Brian Wilson, Bryan Adams, Bruce Hornsby, Mike Reno, and others contributed both songs and performances to the album. The following year, Foster released Rechordings, which featured instrumental versions of Foster's best-loved compositions. He also wrote music to second wife Linda Thompson's lyrics for "Voices That Care," the entertainment industry's salute to U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf War. The project raised more than $500,000 for the Red Cross and USO of America.
Foster received three more Grammy awards in 1992 for Natalie Cole's hit album Unforgettable: producer of the year, song of the year, and record of the year. He also co-produced Streisand's album Bac to Broadway, which entered the Billboard charts at Number One on July 17, 1993. As if this weren't enough, at the end of the year he released The Christmas Album, which featured some of his favorite vocalists singing their best-loved Christmas songs backed by an 80-piece orchestra. Understandably, Billboard named Foster top singles producer and top R&B singles producer in their 1993 year-end wrap-up.
Time reporter Charles P. Alexander noted in 1994, "Over the past two years, Foster productions have held the No. 1 spot on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 more than 25% of the time." The pop guru's domination of the charts was secured throughout 1993 and 1994 by Whitney Houstons's "I Will Always Love You," Canadian pop singer Celine Dion's "The Power of Love," and newcomer All-4-One's "I Swear," each of which spent several weeks in the Number One position.
Foster took his career in yet another direction in 1994 when he joined Atlantic Records as senior vice president of A&R (artists and repertoire), with a three-year production contract. Though his contract allowed him to work with artists on other labels, the position gave him an outlet to develop new artists. According to an August 1994 article in Time, Foster was also working with pop superstar Michael Jackson, producing tracks for the singer's next album.
With a lifetime of writing, producing, and sometimes performing hit music, the 12-time Grammy-winning Foster summed up the purpose and theory of his career in one sentence of his Atlantic Records press biography, allowing, "I gravitate toward tugging at heartstrings-- and I treat every day in the studio as life or death."
by Sonya Shelton
David Foster's Career
Began playing piano with singer-guitarist Chuck Berry at 16; member of band Skylark; worked as session keyboard player; became producer, early 1970s; released first solo recording, Sound Design Records, 1982; released album David Foster, Atlantic, 1986; established David Foster Foundation, 1986; became senior vice president of A&R, Atlantic Records, 1994. Has produced music for films, including The Secret of My Success, St. Elmo's Fire, Urban Cowboy, Summer Lovers, One Good Cop, If Looks Could Kill, and Karate Kid Part II; has produced songs and albums for numerous pop artists, including Whitney Houston, All-4-One, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Color Me Badd, and Natalie Cole.
David Foster's Awards
Grammy awards for (with Jay Graydon and Bill Champlin) best rhythm and blues song, 1979, for "After the Love Has Gone"; producer of the year, 1982, for Dreamgirls; producer of the year, for Chicago 17, and best instrumental arrangement accompanying vocals, for "Hard Habit to Break," both 1984; producer of the year, for "Somewhere," 1985; and for producer of the year, song of the year, and record of the year, all for Unforgettable, 1992; thirty-four Grammy nominations; named top singles producer and top R&B singles producer of 1993 by Billboard magazine; order of Canada.
- Selective Works
- Best of Me, Sound Design, 1982.
- David Foster, Atlantic, 1986.
- The Symphony Sessions, Atlantic, 1988.
- River of Love, Atlantic, 1990.
- Rechordings, Atlantic, 1991.
- David Foster: The Christmas Album, Interscope, 1993.
- Billboard, July 30, 1983; October 26, 1985; May 24, 1986; July 26, 1986; April 23, 1988; October 5, 1991; March 14, 1992; October 9, 1993; December 4, 1993; December 25, 1993.
- Keyboard, February 1986; September 1986; March 1988; January 1992.
- New York Times, December 10, 1993.
- Time, August 29, 1994.
- Variety, May 21, 1986; May 11, 1988.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Atlantic Records press material, 1994.