We Create Music Blog
November 22, 2013

Soundtracking the Life and Death of JFK

The assassination of John F. Kennedy continues to occupy a central place in America’s collective memory, even for those of us who weren’t alive when it happened. Kennedy was a complex personality in both his politics and his character, but to many he was a heroic figure, a beacon of progress. His story was an incredible one, and over the years many notable songwriters and composers have told it through music. As we prepare for the 50th anniversary of the assassination this Friday, we look back at some of the many ASCAP members who have provided us with a soundtrack to JFK’s fascinating life and tragic death.

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Lucas Lechowski - Where Were You: The Day JFK Died (2013)
Watch the premiere: Friday, Nov 22nd at 9pm (EST) on NBC

For this two-hour NBC documentary event, Tom Brokaw interviewed people close to the tragedy as well as former heads of state, politicians, authors, journalists, performers, musicians and more. He asked them five simple questions, starting with: “Where were you?” Together, their words paint a rich and moving picture of a hopeful nation torn asunder by grief. Click here to access NBC’s interactive website about JFK’s life and death.

The documentary was scored by LA-based, Poland-born composer and violinist/guitarist Lucas Lechowski. His recent scoring credits include a 2013 Student Academy Award winner Un Mundo para Raúl. Lucas is a recipient of the Sundance Fellowship for Feature Film Scoring at the Skywalker Ranch (2013); he also participated in the Society of Composers and Lyricists’ Mentorship Program (2013), ASCAP/Columbia University Film Scoring Workshop (2012) and the NYU/ASCAP Television and Film Scoring Workshop (2012). For more information about Lucas and his music visit www.lucaslechowski.com.


Geoff Zanelli - Killing Kennedy (2013)
Next Airing: Monday, December 30th at 8pm (EST) on National Geographic

Based on the best-selling book by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing Kennedy begins in 1959, at major turning points for both the future president and his assassin. Kennedy (played by Rob Lowe) is in Washington, DC, preparing to announce his candidacy, while Lee Harvey Oswald finds himself in the US embassy in Moscow, renouncing his US citizenship. These two events start both men on a cataclysmic track that would alter the course of history. The film features a haunting score by Geoff Zanelli, an Emmy winner for his music for Steven Spielberg’s the Into the West mini-series. www.geoffzanelli.com


Joel Goodman American Experience: JFK (2013)
Click here to watch it online

This two-part biography provides a fresh look at an enigmatic man who has become one of the nation's most beloved and most mourned leaders. The documentary explores Kennedy's childhood years as the overlooked second son of a multimillionaire exploding with ambition, his early political career as a lackluster congressman, his subsequent successful run for senate, and the election victory that turned him into the youngest elected president in US history.

Composer Joel Goodman wrote over two-and-a-half hours of original music and over 100 music cues for the film’s score. Goodman is the Emmy-winning composer of such popular documentaries as Being Elmo, Makers: Women Who Make America and Saving Pelican #895, amongst many others. www.joelgoodman.com


James Newton Howard Parkland (2013)
parkland-themovie.com

The young doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital. The Dallas Secret Service. The cameraman who filmed the event. The brother of Lee Harvey Oswald. And JFK’s security team. It is from these unassuming characters that the ferocious, heart-stopping and powerful story of one of the most scrutinized events in history unfolds. Bringing the story to musical life is James Newton Howard, the Emmy and Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated composer behind The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Dark Knight, Defiance, The Sixth Sense and many more.


Sean Callery The Kennedys (2011)

Sean Callery, the three-time Emmy winner of Elementary, Homeland and 24, wrote the music for this eight-part miniseries starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes. His main title theme was nominated for an Emmy. Listen to it at seancallery.com.


Trevor Jones (PRS) - Thirteen Days (2000)

South African composer Trevor Jones is best known for his scores to Last of the Mohicans and Arachnophobia, acclaimed TV mini-series The Last Place on Earth and Jim Henson productions The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. In 2000 he wrote the pensive orchestral score to Thirteen Days, a critically successful docudrama about the Cuban missile crisis. www.trevorjonesfilmmusic.com


Fred Karlin - The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1977)

Oscar and Emmy-winning ASCAP composer Fred Karlin (the founder of ASCAP's renowned TV & Film Scoring Workshop in LA) wrote the score for this thought-provoking project, which first aired on ABC in September of 1977. The two-part TV film imagines an alternate history where Lee Harvey Oswald isn’t killed by Jack Ruby, and stands trial for the assassination of JFK.


Laurence Rosenthal - The Missiles of October (1974)

ASCAP composer Laurence Rosenthal has earned multiple Emmys and two Oscar nominations for his work on stage, TV and film projects like Becket, Man of La Mancha, The Bourne Identity and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. He provided the score for the critically acclaimed Kennedy docudrama The Missiles of October, a TV film about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. www.laurencerosenthal.com


Igor Stravinsky & W.H. Auden - "Elegy for JFK" (1964)

Written the year after the assassination, this twelve-tone piece for mezzo-soprano (or baritone) and clarinets was composed by modernist maestro Igor Stravinsky, with lyrics by his friend, the poet W. H. Auden - ASCAP members both.


Herbert Kretzmer (PRS) & David Lee (PRS) - "In the Summer of His Years"

In the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, songwriters Herbert Kretzmer and David Lee wrote this disquieting elegy to JFK. It was recorded by Millicent Martin, Mahalia Jackson and Kate Smith among others, but this version by Connie Francis may be the best known. Kretzmer would go on to collaborate with French ASCAP members Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg on the pivotal musical Les Misérables.


Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen “High Hopes” (1960 Kennedy campaign version)

This Oscar-winning song about the power of dreaming big was first introduced in the 1959 Frank Capra film A Hole in the Head, and sung by the film’s star, Frank Sinatra. Lyricist (and ASCAP Board member) Sammy Cahn converted his lyrics into a jingle for Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. Sinatra recorded that one, too.


Read a comprehensive synopsis of the music played at JFK’s funeral: http://bit.ly/18DMm7B

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Lucas Lechowski

Lucas Lechowski

Geoff Zanelli

Geoff Zanelli

Joel Goodman

Joel Goodman

James Newton Howard

James Newton Howard

Sean Callery

Sean Callery

Trevor Jones

Trevor Jones

Fred Karlin

Fred Karlin

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

Herbert Kretzmer

Herbert Kretzmer

(l-r) Sammy Cahn, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Van Heusen

(l-r) Sammy Cahn, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Van Heusen