Michel Legrand, the acclaimed and prolific French-Armenian composer who won Academy Awards for his work in The Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of ’42, and Yentl, died on Saturday January 26, 2019 in Paris. He was 86.
He was born February 24, 1932. His parents were Marcelle Der Mikaelian and Raymond Legrad. In a career that spanned seven decades and 200 compositions, the arranger, conductor, and jazz pianist also scored musical soundtracks for Jacques Denny’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), John Sturges’ Ice Station Zebra (1968); Norman Jewison’s Best Friends (1982, and Orson Wells’ F for Fake (1973) and his recently released The Other Side of the Wind (2018).
Legrand’s unrivaled skill and versatility also can be heard across the full scores of Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962), Mans (1971), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Atlantic City (1980), Never Say Never Again (1983), and the acclaimed 1971 ABC telefilm series Brian’s Song. In total, Legrand received 13 career Oscar nominations.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his condolences to Legrand’s wife and children, hailing him as an “indefatigable genius…His unique tunes that rum through our heads and are hummed in the streets have become like the soundtracks of our lives,” he said.
Although the sole recipient of the Oscar for dramatic score for Summer of ’42 (1971), Legrand acknowledged in his acceptance speech the collaborative effort behind the scenes: “I also want to thank, you know, many people that we don’t thank very often, or not enough often to me, which are all the musicians, all the marvelous musicians that you have in California.”
For Barbra Streisand’s Yentl, Legrand received Oscar nominations for the songs “The Way He Makes Me Feel” and “Papa Can Youy Hear Me?” and for its score. Legrand collaborated with other giants of the industry, including Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra. In 2010, he celebrated 50 years in show business with a star-studded tribute at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Along with his Academy Award, Legrand won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and give Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1990. “Ever since I was a boy, my ambition has been to live completely surrounded by music. My dream is not to muss out on anything. That’s why I’ve never settled on one musical discipline,” he wrote on his website. “I love playing, conducting, singing, and writing, and in all styles. So I turn my hand to everything. Quite the opposite. I do all these activities at once, seriously, sincerely and with deep commitment.”