American composer, pianist, and arranger David Shire (b. Buffalo, NY, 3 July 1937) has worked in theatre, film, recordings, and television since the early 1960s, earning multiple nominations for Tony® and Emmy Awards, and winning a Grammy® and an Academy Award®. He has frequently collaborated with lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., writing scores for the Broadway musicals Baby (1983, nominated for Tonys® for Best Score and Best Musical) and Big (1996, nominated for Best Score), and creating the off-Broadway hit revues Starting Here, Starting Now (capturing a 1977 Grammy® nomination) and Closer Than Ever (1989, winning the Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and Best Score).
David Lee Shire was the son of Buffalo society band leader and piano teacher Irving Daniel Shire. As an undergraduate at Yale University he met Maltby, his long-time theatre collaborator, and with him wrote two musicals, Cyrano and Grand Tour, which were produced by the Yale Dramatic Association. Shire, a double major in English and music, played also in a jazz group, earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, and graduated magna cum laude in 1959.
After a semester of graduate school and six months in the National Guard, Shire moved to New York City to play the piano for dance classes, theatrical rehearsals, and pickup bands, and to continue his creative association with Maltby. Their show, The Sap of Life, was produced off-Broadway in 1961. As a rehearsal and pit pianist, Shire began to work with Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1964–67) and eventually became her regular accompanist and occasional arranger. She featured five of his songs on recordings and highlighted the Maltby/Shire “Starting Here, Starting Now” on her television special and associated recording Color Me Barbra (1966).
Meanwhile Shire was writing incidental music for the stage (Peter Ustinov’s The Unknown Soldier and His Wife at Lincoln Center 1967), as he has continued to do over the years: off-Broadway productions with his music have included As You Like It for the NY Shakespeare Festival in 1973, Smulnik’s Waltz in 1991, Donald Margulis’s The Loman Family Picnic in 1993, and Visiting Mr. Green in 1997.
Shire had already written scores and theme music for television in the 1960s, and in 1970 decided to move to Hollywood. Since then, his record in the film industry has been impressive, with music for at least 42 features from The Conversation in 1974 to Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in 2009, including Two People, All the President’s Men, The Hindenburg, Farewell My Lovely, The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three, 2010, Return to Oz, Max Dugan Returns, and Zodiac. For his original music for Saturday Night Fever (1977) he received a Grammy Award® (Album of the Year) and a Golden Globe nomination. Shire has also supplied nearly 90 scores for television series or movies made for TV (among them are Alice, McCloud, Sarah Plain and Tall, Raid on Entebbe, The Kennedys of Massachusetts, Serving in Silence, Christopher Reeve’s Rear Window, Oprah Winfrey’s The Women of Brewster Place, and The Heidi Chronicles), and so far has had five nominations for Emmy Awards.
The 1980 Academy Award® for Best Song went to David Shire and Norman Gimbel for “It Goes Like It Goes,” the theme song from Norma Rae (1979) with Sally Field. That same year Shire was also nominated for “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” from the film The Promise.
Back in New York, in the fall of 1976 Richard Maltby got a call from the Manhattan Theatre Club with the proposal that he stage a revue of songs that David Shire and he had written. It was a welcome opportunity, for neither Maltby nor Shire was satisfied that their work had been adequately represented before the public. Shire was called back from Hollywood to arrange the songs, and “Theater Songs by Maltby and Shire” took its bow at the MTC in late 1976. It was such an unqualified success that it moved to the Barbarann Theater Restaurant in March 1977 under the title of Starting Here, Starting Now and ran for 120 performances. The original cast album was nominated for a Grammy Award®, and thirteen years later the show, and another cast album, were produced equally successfully in London.
Almost all of Shire’s work in the musical theatre has been in collaboration with Maltby. After they contributed some material to the revue Urban Blight in 1988, a second off-Broadway revue of exclusively Maltby/Shire songs, Closer Than Ever, was launched in 1989 and won the Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Musical. Their 1983 Broadway musical Baby earned Tony® nominations for Best Musical and Best Score, and Big, opening in 1996, was nominated both for a Tony® for Best Score and for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. All these shows have had hundreds of regional productions since.
A new Maltby/Shire musical, Take Flight, with book by John Weidman, was first presented in concert versions in Russia and Australia. The staged version premiered in London at the Menier Chocolate Factory in July 2007, was produced in Japan in 2008, and had its American premiere in May 2010 in Princeton, NJ, at the McCarter Theatre.
With librettist Gene Scheer, Shire recently completed a one-act opera for children about environmental stewardship, A Stream of Voices, commissioned by the Colorado Children’s Chorale and premiered during the National Performing Arts Convention in Denver in June 2008. He is currently working on a new musical with New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik.
Among the many artists who have recorded David Shire’s songs are Maureen McGovern, Melissa Manchester, Jennifer Warnes, Julie Andrews, John Pizzarelli, Liz Callaway, Lynne Wintersteller, Nancy Lamont, Vanessa Williams, Glenn Campbell, Johnny Mathis, Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathy Lee Gifford, Robert Goulet, and Michael Crawford. The composer has also worked with lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman (the Oscar®-nominated “I’ll Never Say Goodbye”), Carol Connors (“With You I’m Born Again” recorded by Billy Preston and Syreeta), Sheldon Harnick (“Everlasting Light”), Ed Kleban, and David Pomeranz (“In Our Hands,” theme song for the United Nations World Summit for Children).
Shire has conducted concerts with the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Rockland Symphony, the North Jersey Symphony and Yale’s Davenport Pops Orchestra; for his film scores he has conducted The London Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Irish Film Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and the Munich Symphony Orchestra.
David Shire and his wife of 28 years, actress Didi Conn, have developed and co-produced a new children’s animated musical television series called Didi Lightful, and have just completed the pilot.
Shire serves on the executive council of the Dramatists Guild of America and is a Trustee of the Rockland Conservatory of Music and the Palisades, NY, Library. He has two sons, screenwriter Matthew, who lives in Los Angeles, and teenager Daniel, who lives with his parents in the Hudson Valley.
– DS, LEC