Composer John Williams was honored with the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 44th Life Achievement Award on Thursday, June 9, in an evening filled with music and memories from his treasured collaborators, including J.J. Abrams, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
This marked the first time in history that America’s highest honor for a career in film was bestowed upon a composer. But Williams is not just any composer. He is known for the music to the most iconic films of our time including Jaws, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Indiana Jones, Supermman, Jurassic Park, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The ceremony started with welcome remarks made by Sir Howard Stringer, Chair of the AFI Board of Trustees, and Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO. Acclaimed director/producer and AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women alumna Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Mad Men, Twin Peaks) was awarded the 2016 Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal for her commitment to excellence in film and television.
The Tribute launched without words as Will Ferrell conducted the ballroom in singing Williams’ famous five-note motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind(1977). The evening’s highlights included clips spanning Williams’ career; touching remarks and anecdotes from guests and presenters; and a moving performance of the Schindler’s List (1993) theme, with Los Angeles Philharmonic Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel conducting an 11-piece ensemble comprised of violin soloist Simone Porter and musicians from the American Youth Symphony.
The evening concluded with Spielberg’s presentation of the AFI Life Achievement Award to the Oscar®-winning composer. “John, you breathe belief into every film we have made,” Spielberg said. “You take our movies, many of them about our most impossible dreams, and through your musical genius you make them real and everlasting for billions and billions of years.”
Accepting the prestigious honor, Williams said, “Tomorrow morning, when I’m back at work, I will try to deserve all of this.”
Paying tribute to Williams guests including Drew Barrymore, Kobe Bryant, Chris Columbus, Gustavo Dudamel, Will Ferrell, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Mark Hamill, Tom Hanks, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cloris Leachman, Seth MacFarlane, Steve Martin, Idina Menzel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Itzhak Perlman and Daisy Ridley.
Proceeds from the Gala event support the Institute’s national education programs and the preservation of American film heritage. Sponsors of the 44th AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute include American Airlines, the official airline of AFI; Audi of America; Deloitte; and VIZIO, the official home theater sponsor of AFI.
The televised special, AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to John Williams, will air on TNT June 15 at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT), followed by an encore presentation on sister network Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on September 12 during a night of programming dedicated to Williams.
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