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May 2, 2004
Composer Fred Karlin Dead at 67
Film music community mourns unexpected loss of beloved songwriter, friend

The death of Oscar- and Emmy-winning composer, music teacher and noted author Fred Karlin was revealed over the weekend.

Karlin died of cancer on March 26 at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, California. He was 67. A memorial service is being planned for September, with further details to be announced by the family.

Over three decades, Karlin composed more than two dozen feature-film scores and nearly 100 television productions. He won a 1970 Best Song Oscar (wth lyricists Robb Royer and James Griffin) for "For All We Know" from Lovers and Other Strangers. The song became a top-5 hit for The Carpenters and is now considered a standard in American songbook literature.

He was Oscar- and Grammy-nominated for "Come Saturday Morning" from The Sterile Cuckoo (1969) – a hit for The Sandpipers, with lyrics by Dory Previn. He also received Oscar nominations for the song score to The Baby Maker (1970), with lyrics by his wife Megan Karlin (under pseudonym Tylwyth Kymry), and for the song "Come Follow, Follow Me" from The Little Ark (1972), also with lyrics by Meg Karlin.

His other memorable film scores included Up the Down Staircase (1967), Yours, Mine and Ours (1968), The Stalking Moon (1969), Westworld (1973), Futureworld (1976) and Loving Couples (1980).

Karlin rarely worked in series television; but when he did, he composed strikingly original and memorable themes, including those for the science-fiction series The Man From Atlantis (1977) and two jazz-oriented scores – Ron Leibman's Kaz (1978) and James Earl Jones' Paris (1979, an early Steven Bochco detective drama), for which Karlin’s music received an Emmy nomination.

Karlin won a 1974 Emmy for the music of the critically praised TV-movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. It was one of several 1970s scores for which the composer drew on his extensive knowledge of the history of American folk and choral music. Later such works included his scores for Gordon Parks' feature Leadbelly (1976) and the TV-movie Minstrel Man (1977), which received Emmy nominations for Best Score and Song as well as an NAACP Image Award.

Karlin received eight other Emmy nominations, including score nods for the miniseries The Awakening Land (1978) and Dadah Is Death (song and score, 1988); the TV-movies Homeward Bound (song and score, 1980), Bridge to Silence (1989); Survive the Savage Sea (1992) and for a song in Jane Pittman.

As budgets shrunk and he often found himself working in an all-electronic milieu, he turned his attention increasingly to writing, educating and even filmmaking.

His documentary Film Music Masters: Jerry Goldsmith, the first in a projected series of films about contemporary composers, won acclaim in 1995. Karlin produced, directed and co-edited the 70-minute production, which featured footage of Goldsmith scoring The River Wild.

Karlin was a highly successful author and educator. He taught the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop for over a decade. His 1990 book On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring (co-written with his friend and orchestration teacher, Rayburn Wright) has become the definitive textbook for emerging film and television composers.

He also authored Listening to Movies: A Film Lover's Guide to Film Music (Schirmer Books, 1994). At the time of his death, he had just completed his third book called 100 Great Film Scores (to be published next year). Karlin's skills as a teacher were in demand worldwide. He taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, at USC, at seminars in Denmark and Belgium, and elsewhere.

Karlin was born June 16, 1936, in Chicago. He began playing trumpet in 1950, studied jazz composition with legendary Stan Kenton arranger Bill Russo, and graduated cum laude from Amherst College in 1956.

In the late '50s and early '60s, he worked in New York as a composer and arranger, writing charts for the big bands of Benny Goodman, Harry James and others. He met Meg Welles in 1962 and became music director of her chamber-jazz quintet; they recorded three LPs for Columbia and married in 1963.

Karlin's interest in film scoring began with the documentaries and TV commercials he scored during the '60s in New York. In 1967, he was asked by producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan to write what would be Karlin’s first motion picture score, Up the Down Staircase. He moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1969.

Karlin served on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1972 through 1975, and was also on the Boards of the Composers and Lyricists Guild of America (CLGA) and the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL). He served for many years as a Trustee and active Advisor to The Film Music Society.

A less noted but important side of Karlin's career was his music for the concert hall. His works, combining classical and jazz influences, included Reflections (1993) and The Peace Seeker (1998). Varese Sarabande released two CD collections of jazz-oriented film themes, Cool and Classic: The '60s and ... The '70s, in 1995 and 1997. Reel Music Down Under will soon be releasing the fourth volume of The Fred Karlin Collection, the restored score of Futureworld.

Survivors include his wife Meg; son Eric Karlin; daughters Wendy Karlin and Kathryn Velasquez; brother Kenneth Karlin; four grandchilden; and cousin John Milligan.

Donations in Karlin's name may be made to the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, where the composer deposited many of his original scores.


All of us at the FMS were heartbroken to hear the sad news of Fred's recent passing. You all know Fred to have been the great composer and author that he was. However, we in the music community had the advantage of getting to know the incredibly warm human being that lay behind his work. His seminal book On the Track holds a unique place in the world of film music. Nothing has ever been, nor in all probability will ever be quite like it. For me what made Fred unique as an author was his ability to put his ego aside and continuously find ways to praise the work of his colleagues in print. Where most of us are inclined to find fault in our peer's work, I personally found great inspiration in seeing him talk so passionately about the greatness in other's music.

God bless you, Fred.

Christopher Young
President, FMS

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