Burt Bacharach, sophisticated Jewish hitmaker of the ’60s and ’70s, dies at 94

Courtesy of JTA. Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

Composer Burt Bacharach (left) and lyricist Hal David hold Oscars they won for "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," at the Academy Awards, April 7, 1970

(JTA) — Songwriter Burt Bacharach,  who with his longtime lyricist Hal David turned out a string of hits in the 1960s and ’70s — including “Alfie” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” — died on Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.

Bacharach and David, both Jewish New Yorkers, also wrote a host of songs that made Dionne Warwick a megastar, such as “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” 

Fittingly, the pair collaborated with Broadway producer David Merrick on the 1968 musical “Promises, Promises,” which yielded two hits, including the title tune and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” That show too had a strong Jewish pedigree: The book by the legendary playwright Neil Simon was based on the 1960 film “The Apartment,” written by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond.

Jonathan Freedman, author of “Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity,” told the New York Jewish Week in 2013 that what made Bacharach’s music Jewish was his “wild play with time signatures; he is to time signatures what [George] Gershwin is to chord changes.” He called Bacharach “really audacious and experimental,” an example of what he sees Jewish artists doing as they “enter popular forms and make them their own.”

In the 1970s Bacharach split with David and Warwick and entered into a new collaboration –- and third of four marriages –- with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, another Jewish New Yorker. Their best-known song was the AIDS fund-raising anthem “That’s What Friends Are For.” 

Bacharach remained busy nearly to the end of his life, with his later activity including collaborations with the rock star Elvis Costello. He won seven Grammy awards in all, the latest in 2006 for his pop instrumental album “At This Time.” In 1983, at the height of the British “New Wave” in rock, a synth-pop version of the then 20-year-old Bacharach-David song “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” by Naked Eyes climbed into the Billboard Top Ten.

Bacharach would eventually reunite with Warwick and with David. In 2012, forty years after they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and shortly before David died at age 91, Bacharach and David received the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song — named for the Jewish composer to whom Bacharach had long been compared.