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Bill Conti

Academy Award-Winner Bill Conti Returns to LSU

About 50 years ago, a high school student in Miami, Florida, was looking for a place to attend college. After talking to his orchestra teacher at North Miami Senior High, she suggested that if he learn the bassoon, she could help him get a scholarship to Louisiana State University.

 A few years and a bassoon scholarship later, he arrived on LSU’s campus in Baton Rouge, having never stepped foot on it.

So began Bill Conti’s love affair with LSU, an affair that continues to this day.

“The first impression has to be of one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. It takes your breath away,” he said.

He moved into the Tiger Stadium Dorms; got his haircut for the ROTC program; joined the Golden Band from Tigerland, where he played piccolo; assisted the LSU Ballet Corps, now the Golden Girls, as an accompanist; and got started on earning his degree in composition.

“I’d studied music all my life, but the formal education at LSU began with Pearl Willis, Frank Page, Helen Gunderson – teachers that shaped my musical career because I was interested in certain things, and they were the people that started shaping me musically,” Conti said.

      Bill Conti  
      Bill Conti believes LSU can equip students with the tools needed to succeed. [Click to play] 
Conti, an Oscar and three-time Emmy Award-winner, recently returned to 2 LSU’s campus to conduct the LSU Wind Ensemble’s season-ending concert, where they played some of his most well-known compositions, including Fanfare from The Final Bell from Rocky; music from Olympics ’88, Falcon Crest, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Dynasty, and Cagney and Lacey; the theme from For Your Eyes Only; music from The Right Stuff; and Gonna Fly Now, the theme from Rocky.

Conti led the ensemble through his compositions and shared stories with the audience on the background of his most famous pieces. Most enjoyable were the stories of his time at LSU – playing piano at local hot spots, pinning a rough draft of a tune that would become the theme for Rocky for a class project, and the influences on his life and career that began in Baton Rouge.

“All of those memories are just great,” Conti said. “Louisiana State is a big part of my life and will continue to be a big part of my life.”

During the LSU Wind Ensemble concert, Conti was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Meeting a Golden Girl

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on April 13, 1942, Conti began studying piano at age seven under the tutelage of his father – an accomplished pianist, sculptor, and painter.

At LSU, he majored in composition and played jazz piano at many of the local nightspots to help defray the costs of his education. He also held a variety of musical posts, including first chair bassoon in the school symphony orchestra, staff arranger for the LSU Tiger Marching Band, and accompanist for the LSU Ballet Corps, now called the LSU Golden Girls.

No single post at LSU had more influence on him than working with the Ballet Corps, where he met his wife, Shelby, who was a member of the Ballet Corps and a soloist with the Modern Dance Group.

“The band had these Golden Girls that as a male caught my eye on occasion. On this one particular occasion, this one particular Golden Girl caught my eye,” Conti said. “We did a road trip to Houston, and I managed to sit beside her. For more than 40 years, I’ve been married to that same Golden Girl.”

After Conti received his bachelor of music degree from LSU, he attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where he studied with such musical greats as Hugo Weisgall, Vincent Persichetti, Roger Sessions, Luciano Berio, and Jorge Mester. He went on to receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Juilliard.

“Having graduated from Louisiana State University and arriving with your work for an audition at Julliard and standing in line with other students from all over the country, we realized that the four years (of college) were a fine preparation for going on with our musical educations, at least for my friends and I,” Conti said. “They came from other places; I came from LSU. I was right there with everyone else. I felt proud to be from Louisiana State University.”

Working Today

Conti is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after composers and conductors for both film and television. His compositions have sold in excess of 8 million albums, and a star bearing his name was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989. In 1995, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers awarded Conti the Golden Soundtrack Award for lifetime achievement in film and television.

For the silver screen, Conti has composed the musical scores for many box-office giants, including Broadcast News, Baby Boom, The Karate Kid, Private Benjamin, and Spy Hard. He won an Oscar for Best Original Score for The Right Stuff in 1983 and received two Oscar nominations for Best Original Song – one for the Sheena Easton hit-record For Your Eyes Only from the James Bond picture of the same title and one for Gonna Fly Now, the powerful anthem from the 1976 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Rocky.

Conti’s work for the small screen has been equally as acclaimed, receiving a total of 10 Emmy nominations throughout his career. He won two Emmy Awards in 1990 for developing the creative concept and composing the score for the running of the New York City Marathon. He won his third Emmy in 1992 for his musical direction during the telecast of the Academy Award Ceremonies, marking the first time an Emmy was awarded for a participant in the Oscar ceremonies.

Conti has also composed some of the most recognizable themes for television broadcasts, including those for the Good Morning America, Turning Point, World News Tonight, Prime Time Live, Nightline, ABC Sports, Inside Edition, and American Gladiators. He has composed music for numerous television commercials advertising products for Honda, Pizza Hut, Sprite, and Coca Cola.

During the 1983-84 television season, Conti set an all-time industry record for having composed the themes for five television series playing concurrently in prime time. He broke his own record, however, in 1986-87 when that number increased to nine: Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Cagney & Lacey, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, OHara, The Colby’s, Our World, Business Week, and Mariah.

In addition to his composing, Conti spends considerable time traveling around the world as a guest conductor for many prestigious orchestras including the Boston Pops, the London Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony at Wolf Trap, the Calgary Philharmonic, the RAI Orchestra of Rome, and the Graunke Orchestra of Munich. He has also been the principal pops conductor for the Nashville Symphony.

Conti has conducted the Academy Awards orchestra on numerous occasions, including the 2008 ceremony, and with each performance he goes back to his time at LSU – specifically noting the way that his LSU professors conducted their musical lives and the influence they had on him.

“The teacher, when its really good, becomes the person you want to imitate – that’s the best form of teaching,” Conti said. “If I could actually write music as well as any of the great composers of the past, that would be a fine lesson for me to learn.

“If I could conduct myself in a rehearsal for the Academy Awards Show like Mr. (Peter) Fuches (LSU orchestra conductor) did his rehearsals, I’d be doing pretty good. So I still carry with me a lot of memories.”

Forever LSU's "Band Together" campaign
Since 1958, the size of the Golden Band from Tigerland has more than doubled from 144 members to 325. While the size and quality of the LSU band has increased over the years, the LSU band hall has remained the same. This is about to change, however, with Forever LSU’s “Band Together” campaign to build a new band hall on campus.

The new hall will be constructed on Aster Street near Highland Road, on the site of the marching band’s current practice field. In the new building, the band program’s many elements will be able to practice indoors each day, regardless of weather conditions. With the new facility, the program will also be able to continue to recruit the finest band members and faculty from around the world, furthering the tradition of producing the best and brightest musicians as representatives of LSU.

Through an action of the 2007 Legislature, the state of Louisiana has appropriated $5 million toward construction of a new hall. To gain these funds, however, the friends and supporters of the LSU bands must raise a matching $5 million by August 30, 2008.

Fans, alumni, and supporters can help by donating through any of the University’s fund-raising organizations – the LSU Alumni Association, the LSU Foundation, and the Tiger Athletic Foundation. More information on the new band hall, including an artist rendering, ways to donate, and naming opportunities can be found at http://friendsofthelsutigerband.org.


Ernie Ballard | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2008

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