Born November 28, 1943, in New Orleans, LA; son of Irving Newman (a physician) and Adele Newman (a homemaker); younger brother, Alan, a physician; married first wife, Roswitha, 1966; (divorced 1989); married second wife, Gretchen, c. 1992; children (from first marriage): Amos, born 1968; Eric, born 1971; John, born 1978. Education: Studied music composition at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Addresses: Record company--DreamWorks, 9268 W. Third St., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Grammy award-winning musician Randy Newman attained prominence by using humor, irony, and cynicism to draw attention to society's ills, such as prejudice, materialism, and racism, in addition to the absurdities and ironies of life. For example, he took on the personae of apartheid-supporting South Africans with "Christmas in Capetown," insecure homophobics in "Half a Man," and Southern bigots in "Rednecks." Newman, who thrives on misinterpretation, set his sometimes misunderstood lyrics to music ranging from rock and roll, folk, pop, ragtime, blues, and soul to lounge piano, orchestra, and big band. Most people remember him for his sole top 40 hit in 1977, "Short People," a song which also angered many small listeners who did not realize his aim was to attack prejudice in general. As he stated in an interview with Scott Benarde in the Baltimore Jewish Times, "If I died tomorrow, my tombstone would say, 'Composer of "Short People" and others.' That's the way it is.... 'Short People' was the worst hit I could have. I had the worst tour when it was out. No one came--and I got death threats." Other recognized songs brought to life by Newman include "I Love L.A.," "I Love to See You Smile," "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (a song that angered many women's groups), and Three Dog Night's hit single "Mama Told Me Not to Come." And recording artists like Barbra Streisand, Peggy Lee, Dusty Springfield, Manfred Mann, Eric Burden, and Ringo Starr all called upon Newman for material.
However, Newman's accomplishments extend beyond his own recordings of sarcastic, witty songs and his compositions for legendary musicians. He also composed numerous songs for movie soundtracks, including Awakenings, Forrest Gump, and the animated film Toy Story, and wrote a musical called Faust in 1995. In all, Newman has earned 12 Academy Award nominations, but he has never taken home the prize. Although he focused much of his energy on composing music for Hollywood films during the 1980s until the mid-1990s, Newman returned to his solo work in 1999, releasing his first album of new songs since 1988's Land of Dreams. In addition to the release of his most recent record, Bad Love in 1999, Newman also received an astonishing three nominations for composing film scores for Babe: Pig in the City, A Bug's Life, and Pleasantville (all released in 1998), but again went home empty handed.
Newman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 28, 1943. His father, Irving, was a physician who practiced internal medicine and a veteran of World War II, while his mother, Adele, stayed at home to care for Newman and his younger brother Alan, who also pursued a career in medicine. Newman's interest in music formed at an early age, and several members of his family were already respected professionals within the recording business and Hollywood film industry. Alfred Newman, one of his uncles, received 45 Academy Award nominations and won nine during his career, scoring such films as How Green Was My Valley, The Robe, and The Grapes of Wrath, in addition to heading the music department at 20th Century Fox. When Alfred retired from his post at the film studio, Newman's other uncle (Alfred's brother), Lionel, succeeded him. Another uncle and brother to Alfred and Lionel, Emil, penned music for dozens of films during his lifetime as well. Later, two of Newman's cousins found success writing in Hollywood; David scored The War of the Roses and I Love Trouble, while Thomas worked on the films Desperately Seeking Susan and The Shawshank Redemption. "I was about four or five when I had my first memories of my uncles. Uncle Alfred did All About Eve in 1951, and I remember that. I remember The Gunfighter, Yellow Sky and I was on stage for The Robe when I was a little boy," Newman recalled to Brett Anwar in the Sunday Telegraph. "I can remember having to be very quiet while he conducted the big orchestra on the soundstage. I realized it was something to do with what I wanted to do, and I was lucky because it was such a great orchestra, and I had the sound in my ear very early. Live, it's a very impressive thing to hear."
Although Newman considered himself fortunate to have been exposed to such experiences as a child, his early life included it's share of difficulties as well. During the time his family lived in Louisiana, he often felt isolated by his Jewish heritage, although his parents never actively practiced the spiritual aspect of the religion (his father, as well as Newman himself, defined themselves as atheists). Moreover, Newman suffered problems with his eyes and vision from the time of his birth. "It was tough for him having the problem with bad eyes," longtime friend and frequent producer Lenny Waronker told Susan Toepfer in People. "It wasn't just that he had to wear glasses, he also had to have surgery." Beginning at age five, Newman underwent four operations to correct his severely crossed eyes. Newman, who felt shunned by other children and frequently endured teasing by peers, recalled to Toepfer, "School was painful. It was not the best time of my life, like they said it was going to be. ... I've had a low opinion of myself since childhood. I'm hard on myself." Later, Newman, ordinarily contemptuous of personal revelation in music, would document these emotional hardships on his 1988 release Land of Dreams in songs like "Dixie Flyer," "New Orleans Wins the War," and "Four Eyes."
Around 1948, when Newman was about five years old, his father returned to New Orleans after serving in World War II and moved the family to Los Angeles, California, where Newman spent the remainder of his childhood. After studying music composition at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), he worked in music publishing for awhile before turning to writing his own lyrics and composing at the piano. In 1968, he released his self-titled debut album. Though critics in general complained about Newman's overworked orchestrations, the record contained the notable songs "Davy the Fat Boy" and "I Think It's Going to Rain Today."
Throughout the 1970s, Newman enjoyed a prolific and critically successful solo career, releasing acclaimed records such as the sardonic Sail Away, where Newman plays a huckster enticing slaves to America in the album's title track and advocates dropping the atomic bomb in "Political Science;" as well as Good Old Boys, a concept album about the South that celebrates redneck ignorance. During the 1980s, at the same time he started focusing more on film scores, Newman managed to record two more noteworthy albums.
In 1995, Newman took another direction in his career by writing his first musical called Faust, a twisted adaptation of Wolfgang von Goethe's classic epic drama set in South Bend, Indiana. In Newman's adaptation, God, a corporate CEO who carries a PowerBook, and Lucifer, a cynic, battle for the soul of Henry Faust, a college student in his third year as a freshman at Notre Dame. "I wanted to try one [a musical], just to see if I could do it," he told Michelle Green and Lorenzo Benet in an interview with People magazine. "I did a couple of songs and an embryonic version of the book and put it aside until 1993 to earn a living." Audiences and critics alike agreed that Newman could indeed write a musical. The companion album to the work featured a cast of well-known musicians, including James Taylor and Elton John.
After this, Newman went back to scoring for Hollywood and also wrote material for a new album. In the meantime, the songwriter released Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman, an album which spans his entire career and includes hits he wrote for other musicians, such as "Mama Told Me Not to Come" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On," as well as music he previously recorded himself, such as "Short People" and "I Love L.A." With his next solo release, 1999's Bad Love, Newman explored the peculiarities of living in the 1990s with his trademark New Orleans piano sound and included both love tunes and biting commentaries. "On the magnificently dispiriting Bad Love," wrote Rob Tannenbaum in Rolling Stone, "the fifty-five-year-old pianist reprises his blend of rock bluster, blues shuffles and classic dissonance, and introduces a vivid new batch of fools: rich older men who beg for younger girls' notice or nap blankly in the shade of a big-screen TV; chronic liars; hurtful exes; uncomprehending couples; and, in 'I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It),' rock stars who tour long past their expiration date." The record, concluded critics, was sure to become another Newman classic.
Newman lived with his parents until he married at age 23, to a German-born woman, Roswitha. They had three sons together: Amos, born in 1968, Eric, born in 1971, and John, born in 1978. The couple separated in 1985 and divorced in 1989. The news that the marriage ended surprised many, because Newman always credited his first wife with keeping him on the right creative path throughout his productive career. Nevertheless, Newman and Roswitha remained close friends. Roswitha remarried in 1992, and Newman later married a second time to Gretchen.
Newman's father died of cancer in 1990, just 18 months after his mother passed away. Throughout his life, Newman always struggled for his father's approval. "We were close, but there was a contentiousness in our relationship," he confided to Green and Benet. Sometime in 1985, doctors diagnosed Newman with an illness known as Epstein-Barr, a virus that leaves victims depressed and fatigued. But with changes in his diet and rest, the musician gradually gained control of his condition. Following the release of Bad Love and a 14-date tour in the fall of 1999, Newman planned to work on the soundtrack for the sequel to Toy Story. "I love an orchestra," Newman explained to Marc Shulgood of the Denver Rocky Mountain News. "That's the reason I got into film scores. Plus, I respond well to specific assignments, to solving technical problems that come up all the time." Nonetheless, Newman regards himself as a songwriter first and foremost and intended not to let so much time pass before producing another solo record. "I hope never to go very long again [between albums]," Newman said to Jane Stevenson of the Toronto Sun. "Unless I think I'm really not as good and then I'll quit, which is possible."
by Laura Hightower
Randy Newman's Career
Worked in music publishing and wrote own music; released debut album Randy Newman, 1968; continued to release solo recordings throughout the 1970s, including Sail Away, 1972; Good Old Boys, 1974; Little Criminals, 1977; and Born Again, 1979; focused on movie soundtracks for much of the 1980s with scores such as The Natural, 1984, and Parenthood, 1989; released acclaimed solo album Land of Dreams, 1988; nominated for three Academy Awards at the same time for film scores for Babe: Pig in the City, A Bug's Life, and Pleasantville, 1998; released first solo project since Land of Dreams entitled Bad Love, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Randy Newman , Reprise, 1968.
- 12 Songs , Reprise, 1970.
- Randy Newman Live , Reprise, 1971.
- Sail Away , Reprise, 1972.
- Good Old Boys , Reprise, 1974.
- Little Criminals , Warner Brothers, 1977.
- Born Again , Warner Brothers, 1979.
- Trouble in Paradise , Warner Brothers, 1983.
- Lonely at the Top , WEA International, 1987.
- Land of Dreams , Reprise, 1988.
- Faust , Reprise, 1995.
- Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman , Warner Brothers, 1998.
- Bad Love , DreamWorks, 1999.
- The Natural , Warner Brothers, 1984.
- Down and Out in Beverly Hills , MCA, 1986.
- Major League , Curb, 1989.
- Parenthood , Reprise, 1989.
- Avalon , Reprise, 1990.
- Awakenings , Reprise, 1990.
- Blaze , A&M, 1990.
- Forrest Gump , Epic, 1994.
- Maverick , Atlantic, 1994.
- Walt Disney's Toy Story , Disney, 1995.
- Walt Disney Pictures Presents James and the Giant Peach , Disney, 1996.
- Babe: Pig in the City , 1998.
- A Bug's Life , Disney, 1998.
- Pleasantville , 1998.
September 11, 2004: Newman won a Creative Arts Primetime Emmy Award for the theme song forMonk. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, September 14, 2004.
- musicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
- Atlanta Constitution, May 5, 1999, p. F9.
- Baltimore Jewish Times, November 13, 1998, p. 51.
- Denver Rocky Mountain News, September 12, 1997, p. 20D.
- People, December 5, 1988, p. 71; October 30, 1995, p.79.
- Rolling Stone, July 8-22, 1999; August 19, 1999.
- Sunday Telegraph, February 7, 1999, p. 10.
- Time, October 2, 1995, p. 81.
- Toronto Sun, June 4, 1999, p. 71.
- Rollingstone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (August 31, 1999).