March 14, 2007
Shirley Walker Memorial
Composer did it her way, say close colleagues and friends by Jon Burlingame
BURBANK, Calif. – Approximately 300 members of the Los Angeles music community attended a memorial service for composer Shirley Walker on Saturday, March 10, at the Eastwood Scoring Stage on the Warner Bros. lot.
Walker, the two-time Emmy winner and pioneer among women composers in Hollywood, died November 30 at the age of 61.
Daniel Carlin Jr., the former music editor and recently director of the Henry Mancini Institute, served as host for the event. He regaled the crowd with anecdotes about first meeting the composer during the 1979 scoring of Apocalypse Now and The Black Stallion, which launched her career in films.
Carlin recalled the first day of recording on Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). "No woman had ever scored a major motion picture in Los Angeles," he said, so the stage was filled with onlookers who were there "to witness motion picture history."
When Carlin pointed out that the day marked "a turning point for women in film music," Carlin remembered Walker's response: "Oh, Dan, you're such a softie." The audience, most of whom knew her well, laughed knowingly.
Walker's sister Judy Jacoboni spoke briefly about Walker's "commitment to social justice," and high-school music teacher Ken Harrison sent a video greeting that talked about her extraordinary keyboard skills, which led to gigs with the Oakland Symphony before she was out of her teens.
Representing many of the young people that Walker helped along the way were composers Michael McCuisition, Lolita Ritmanis and Kristopher Carter, whose careers were launched during Walker's musical supervision of the Warner Bros. animated superhero series. McCuistion spoke warmly about Walker's mentoring skills and generosity of spirit. "She believed in us," McCuistion said, adding that "she always knew what was important about life, not just about our work."
Walker's longtime assistant Alison Freebairn-Smith recalled being won over "by her infectious smile and kind spirit," and spoke of Walker's advocacy on behalf of L.A. recording musicians.
Producer-director Glen Morgan gave one of the afternoon's most moving tributes, explaining that a visual-effects designer on his series Space: Above and Beyond had suggested Walker and played some of her music for him. "I knew in 10 seconds, this was it," he said.
She was both "tough" and "fun to work with," Morgan said, recalling Walker's initial reactions to an early cut of his film Final Destination: "This movie rocks!" Morgan said he "felt a lot better" about the film after hearing Walker's assessment.
Sony's refusal to consider Walker for his movie The One – "it could have been an age thing, could have been a female thing" – angered him. But the two worked again on Willard, on which the composer used an unprecedented six accordions in the orchestra. "She was never angry or bitter or mean," regardless of the discrimination that she often faced in the industry, Morgan said. "She's my hero."
Julie Ng cut together a 27-minute video consisting of excerpts of several Walker film and television projects, including rare footage of her playing synthesizers on Apocalypse Now and conducting the accordions on Willard; plus moments from The Black Stallion, Mystery Men, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Escape From L.A., Willard, all three Final Destination films, Turbulence, Chicago Joe and the Showgirl, Dick Tracy and Black Christmas; her animated classics Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm; and live-action television including The Flash and Space: Above and Beyond.
Fellow composer Brad Fiedel called her "the glue behind so many major scores over the years. Her generosity and her spirit were so huge. She'd just keep doing what was necessary to move forward."
Filmmaker Kathleen Davison told another moving story about her relationship with the composer, who scored her short film Effloresce. Longtime Warner Bros. executive Danny Gould cited her mentorship of dozens of young composers, and veteran session photographer Dana Ross told an amusing story about the truth behind the seeming nonsense syllables being sung by the choir in the score of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Pianist Gloria Cheng performed a Brahms selection, and Walker's sons Ian and Colin spoke briefly.
At the conclusion of the two-hour memorial, Warner Bros. music president Doug Frank and Walker's longtime agent Vasi Vangelos unveiled a new plaque on the side of the scoring stage, part of their "wall of honor" that had already honored contractor Patti Zimmitti and composers Richard Stone and Michael Kamen. The plaque reads, "in loving memory of our dear friend and colleague Shirley Walker."
©2007 Jon Burlingame