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Daniel Robert "Danny" Elfman (born May 29, 1953) is an American composer, singer, songwriter, and record producer. From 1974 to 1995 he was the lead singer and songwriter for the band Oingo Boingo.
In 1976 Elfman entered the film industry as an actor. In 1982 he scored his first film, Forbidden Zone, directed by his older brother Richard Elfman. Among his honors are four Academy Award nominations, a Grammy for Batman, an Emmy for Desperate Housewives, the 2002 Richard Kirk Award, and the Disney Legend Award.
Early life and career
Danny Elfman was born in Los Angeles, California, into a Jewish family. He is the son of Blossom Elfman (née Bernstein), a writer and teacher, and Milton Elfman, a teacher who was in the Air Force. He was raised in a racially mixed affluent community in Baldwin Hills, California. He spent much of his time in the nieghborhood's local movie theatre, adoring the music of such film composers as Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman. Stating that he hung out with the "band geeks" in high school, he started a ska band. After dropping out of high school, he followed his brother Richard to France, where he performed with Le Grand Magic Circus, an avant-garde musical theater group.
He was never officially a student at the CalArts; nonetheless, the instructor encouraged him to continue learning. Elfman stated, "He just laughed, and said, 'Sit. Play.' I continued to sit and play for a couple years." At this time, his brother Richard was forming a new musical theater group.
In 1972 Richard Elfman founded the American new wave band/performance art group, originally called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. They played several shows throughout the 1970s until Richard Elfman left the band to become a filmmaker. As a send-off to the band's original concept, Richard Elfman created the film Forbidden Zone based on their stage performances. Danny Elfman composed his first score for the film and played the role of Satan (the other band members played his minions). By the time the movie was completed, they had taken the name Oingo Boingo and begun recording and touring as a rock group. From 1976 and on, it was led by Danny Elfman, until 1995 when they suddenly retired. The semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe had transformed into a ska-influenced new wave band in 1979, and then changed again towards a more guitar-oriented rock sound, in the late 1980s.. Oingo Boingo, still led by Danny Elfman, performed as themselves in the 1986 movie Back to School. Additionally, Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek reunited on October 31, 2015 to perform the song "Dead Man's Party" during an encore at a Halloween celebration at the Hollywood Bowl "for the first time in 20 years to the day", as Elfman said to the audience.
Elfman and Tim Burton
In 1985, Tim Burton and Paul Reubens invited Elfman to write the score for their first feature film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Elfman was apprehensive at first, because of his lack of formal training, but with orchestration assistance from Oingo Boingo guitarist and arranger Steve Bartek, he achieved his goal of emulating the mood of such composers as Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann. In the booklet for the first volume of Music for a Darkened Theatre, Elfman described the first time he heard his music played by a full orchestra as one of the most thrilling experiences of his life. Elfman immediately developed a rapport with Burton and has gone on to score all but three of Burton's major studio releases: Ed Wood, which was under production while Elfman and Burton were having a serious disagreement, Sweeney Todd, and most recently Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Elfman also provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and the voices of both Barrel and the "Clown with the Tear-Away Face". Years later he provided the voice for Bonejangles the skeleton in Corpse Bride and the voices of the Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The Simpsons theme
One of Elfman's most famous compositions is the theme to the animated TV show The Simpsons. He wrote the piece in 1989, and it has been used ever since.
2002 – present
In 2002 Elfman composed the opening theme for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series. This as well as altered versions made its way to all 3 Spider-Man movies. In 2004 Elfman composed Serenada Schizophrana for the American Composers Orchestra. It was conducted by John Mauceri on its recording and by Steven Sloane at its premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 23, 2005. After its premiere, it was recorded in studio and released onto SACD on October 3, 2006. The meeting with Mauceri proved fruitful as the composer was encouraged then to write a new concert piece for Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Elfman composed an "overture to a non-existent musical" and called the piece "The Overeager Overture". He also continues to compose his film scores in addition to these other projects.
In November 2010, it was reported that Danny Elfman was writing the music for a planned musical based on the life of Harry Houdini. But, as of January 2012, he was no longer attached to the project.
In 2011 Elfman composed the music for the Cirque du Soleil show Iris, which was performed at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood from July 21, 2011 to January 19, 2013.
In October 2013, Elfman returned to the stage to sing his vocal parts to a handful of Nightmare Before Christmas songs as part of a concert titled Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton. He composed the film score for Oz the Great and Powerful (2013), and composed additional music for Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) together with Brian Tyler.
In October 2016, Elfman composed a horror score for when Donald Trump "loom[ed]" behind Hillary Clinton at the second United States presidential election debates, 2016.
Modern classicist composers, including Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Carl Orff, Harry Partch, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky have influenced the style of Elfman's music. Elfman cited his first time noticing film music being when he heard Bernard Herrmann's score to The Day the Earth Stood Still as an eleven-year-old and being a fan of film music since then. Other influences based in film music include Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, David Tamkin, and Franz Waxman. Also, Nino Rota served as a significant influence and was the main inspiration for Elfman's score to Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
Elfman has three children: Lola (born 1979), Mali (born 1984), and Oliver (born 2005). On November 29, 2003, he married actress Bridget Fonda. In 1997, he scored A Simple Plan, his only score for one of her films to date (although he did compose a cue for the film Army of Darkness, in which Fonda has a cameo). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he dated Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon.
He is the uncle of actor Bodhi Elfman, who is married to actress Jenna Elfman.
Describing his politics during the 1980s, Elfman said, "I'm not a doomist. My attitude is always to be critical of what's around you, but not ever to forget how lucky we are. I've traveled around the world. I left thinking I was a revolutionary. I came back real right-wing patriotic. Since then, I've kind of mellowed in between." In 2008, he expressed support for Barack Obama and said that Sarah Palin was his "worst nightmare".
When asked during a 2007 phone-in interview on XETRA-FM if he ever had any notions of performing in an Oingo Boingo reunion, Elfman immediately rejected the idea and stated that in the last few years with the band he had begun to develop significant and irreversible hearing damage as a result of his continuous exposure to the high noise levels involved in performing in a rock band. He said that he believes his hearing damage is partially due to a genetic predisposition to hearing loss, and that he will never return to the stage for fear of worsening not only his condition but also that of his band mates.
However, Elfman did indeed return to the stage at the Hollywood Bowl on October 31, 2015 and November 1, 2015, as well as October 28-30, 2016 to perform "Dead Man's Party" with Steve Bartek as the encore to an evening featuring the full length score and performances from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Awards and nominations
American Film Institute
Elfman's scores for Batman and Edward Scissorhands were nominated for AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.