Don Black (lyricist)

Don Black, OBE (born 21 June 1938) is an English lyricist. His works have included numerous musicals, movie, television themes and hit songs. He has provided lyrics for John Barry, Charles Strouse, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Quincy Jones, Hoyt Curtin, Lulu, Jule Styne, Henry Mancini, Meat Loaf, Michael Jackson, Elmer Bernstein, Michel Legrand, Hayley Westenra, A. R. Rahman, Marvin Hamlisch and Debbie Wiseman.[1]

Don Black

Don Black shows his Oscar for Born Free at Nightingale House in February 2010
Background information
Birth nameDonald Blackstone
Born (1938-06-21) 21 June 1938
London, England
GenresPopular music
Occupation(s)Songwriter, lyricist
Years active1960s–present
WebsiteOfficial Don Black website

AllMusic stated that "Black is perhaps best-known for his collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and for the James Bond theme songs he co-wrote with composer John Barry: "Thunderball", "Diamonds Are Forever" and "The Man with the Golden Gun"."[2]

Early life

Black was born Donald Blackstone in London, England,[3][4] the youngest of five children of Russian Jewish immigrants Morris and Betsy (née Kersh) Blackstone.[5] His father worked as a garment presser and his mother in a clothes shop[6] and during his childhood the family lived in a council flat in Tornay House, Shore Place, South Hackney.[7] He attended Cassland Road School[6] and enjoyed visits to the Hackney Empire, which was then a music hall and to the cinema to watch James Cagney films.[8][9]


Early career

He began his music industry career as an office boy with a music publishing firm, and later worked as a song-plugger. He also had a brief spell as a comic.[2][10]

He was personal manager to the singer Matt Monro for many years and also provided songs for him (usually writing English language lyrics to continental songs).[11] These included "Walk Away" (music: Udo Jürgens) and "For Mamma" (music: Charles Aznavour).[5]

Film work

Black's first film work was the lyrics for the theme of the James Bond entry Thunderball (1965).[11] His association with the Bond series continued over several decades, with Diamonds Are Forever and The Man with the Golden Gun, in collaboration with John Barry, and Surrender for Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, in collaboration with David Arnold.[11]

Black's film work culminated when he collaborated with Barry on the title song of 1966's "Born Free", which won the Oscar for Best Song and provided a hit for Matt Monro.[5] Pianist Roger Williams made the US Top 40 with an instrumental version. The song was nominated for Song of the Year at the 1967 Grammy Awards. Black later collaborated with Barry on Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, and an ill-fated Broadway musical, The Little Prince and the Aviator. In 1967, Lulu took the Black-Mark London title song of the film "To Sir, with Love" to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.[2] Black received his second Oscar nomination for Best Song with the title theme, written with Elmer Bernstein, of the 1969 John Wayne western, True Grit. That same year, he partnered with Quincy Jones for the title song of the Michael Caine film, The Italian Job. He received a third Oscar nomination for the title song of the 1972 film Ben, a US No. 1 hit for Michael Jackson, which Black had written with Walter Scharf.[5] Further Oscar nominations came for "Wherever Love Takes Me" (music: Elmer Bernstein), from 1974 film Gold, and "Come to Me" (music: Henry Mancini) from 1976's The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

In addition, Black teamed with Charles Strouse on the songs "Growing Up Isn't Easy" and "Anything Can Happen On Halloween" for the 1986 HBO film The Worst Witch, based on the children's book by Jill Murphy.

Musical theatre

Black's stage credits include the musicals Billy (music: John Barry), Bar Mitzvah Boy (music: Jule Styne), Dear Anyone (music: Geoff Stephens), Budgie (music: Mort Shuman) and several Andrew Lloyd Webber shows: the 1979 song-cycle, Tell Me on a Sunday, which was performed by Marti Webb (whom Black also managed for a time); Aspects of Love, which propelled Michael Ball to stardom; and, together with Christopher Hampton, the musical adaptation of the Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard.[5] The latter brought Black and Hampton a Tony Award for Best Book.

Tell Me on a Sunday was incorporated into "Song and Dance".[5] This was later adapted for a Broadway production starring Bernadette Peters, for which she won a Tony award as Best Actress in a Musical. Sarah Brightman released "Unexpected Song", from that musical, as a single. With Geoff Stephens he produced a concept album of a 'revuesical' entitled Off The Wall.[12]

In 2002, he worked with the Indian composer A. R. Rahman on the musical Bombay Dreams.[5] In 2004, Black's second musical collaboration with Hampton, Frank Wildhorn's Dracula, the Musical, debuted on Broadway. He also collaborated with John Barry once more, on the musical Brighton Rock. Based on the Graham Greene novel, it debuted at the Almeida Theatre, London, in 2004. In 2006, Black created the lyrics for the musical adaptation of the book Feather Boy, for the National Theatre in London.

In 2013, he again worked with Christopher Hampton and Andrew Lloyd Webber on Stephen Ward the Musical.[13] In 2015, he wrote the lyrics for Mrs Henderson Presents,[14] with George Fenton and Simon Chamberlin composing the music.[15]

Radio broadcasting

Since the retirement and death of BBC broadcaster David Jacobs in 2013, Black has presented the Sunday night slot vacated by Jacobs on BBC Radio 2.[16] His show features classic songs and songwriters of the 20th century, pays a weekly tribute to Matt Monro, whom he managed, and includes many of his showbiz encounter stories.


In 1993, Play It Again released Born Free – The Don Black Songbook, which remains the only album to date which consists solely of songs co-written by the lyricist.[17]

In 2007, Black was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.[18] That same year, Black was credited on "Sexy Lady", the 2007 debut single and hit for rapper Yung Berg, which sampled the Black-Barry theme for Diamonds Are Forever.

On 17 August 2008, the tribute concert Lyrics by Don Black was held at the London Palladium, featuring performances of Black's songs by a selection of guest artists.[5] The evening, hosted by Michael Parkinson and recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 2, included an exclusive performance of two songs from Black's new musical, The Count of Monte Cristo. The concert included contributions from Lee Mead, Gary Barlow, Elkie Brooks, Craig David, Maria Friedman, Joe Longthorne, Lulu, Peter Grant, Raza Jaffrey, Matt Rawle, Ryan Molloy, Marti Webb, Jonathan Ansell, Hayley Westenra, Phil Campbell and Mica Paris.[19] The singers were accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Mike Dixon and with guest conductors Michel Legrand and David Arnold.

In October 2013, a special concert to celebrate Black's work was held at London's Royal Festival Hall, featuring a lengthy interview with the composer by Michael Grade, interspersed by performances of his songs by artists such as Michael Ball, Maria Friedman, Katie Melua, and Marti Webb.[20] The concert was recorded for television and first shown on BBC Four in early January 2014.[21]

Personal life

Black lives in London, England. His wife of nearly 60 years, Shirley, died in March 2018.

Black's elder brother, Michael Black, a showbusiness booking agent, was married to singer Julie Rogers until his death in November 2018.[22]

See also

  • Songs with lyrics by Don Black

Musical theatre credits

  • Maybe That's Your Problem (1971) - co-written with Walter Scharf and Lionel Chetwynd[23]
  • Billy (1974) - music by John Barry, adapted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais[23]
  • Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978) - music by Jule Styne, book by Jack Rosenthal[23]
  • Tell Me on a Sunday (1979, revised 2003), later incorporated into Song & Dance (1982) - music by Andrew Lloyd Webber[23]
  • ABBAcadabra (1983) - music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus[23]
  • Dear Anyone (1983) - music by Geoff Stephens, book by Jack Rosenthal[23]
  • Merlin (1983) - music by Elmer Bernstein[23]
  • The Little Prince and the Aviator (1983) - music by John Barry, book by Hugh Wheeler[23]
  • Budgie (1988) - music by Mort Shuman, book by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall[23]
  • Aspects of Love (1989) - music by Lloyd Webber; lyrics with Charles Hart[23]
  • Starlight Express (1992) - additional lyrics; lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber[23]
  • Radio Times (1992) - additional lyrics with Chris Walker; written by Noel Gay and Abi Grant[23]
  • Sunset Boulevard (1993) - music by Lloyd Webber; lyrics with Christopher Hampton[23]
  • The Goodbye Girl (1997) - music by Marvin Hamlisch, book by Neil Simon[23]
  • Dracula (2001) - music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics with Christopher Hampton[23]
  • Bombay Dreams (2002) - music by AR Rahman, book by Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan[23]
  • Dance of the Vampires (2002) - additional lyrics; music and lyrics by Jim Steinman, lyrics by Michael Kunze, book by Steinman, Kunze and David Ives[23]
  • Whistle Down the Wind (2002 tour version) - additional lyrics; music by Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Steinman, book by Patricia Knop[23]
  • Romeo and Juliet - The Musical (2002)[23]
  • Feather Boy (2006)
  • Stephen Ward (2013) - music by Lloyd Webber; lyrics with Hampton
  • Mrs Henderson Presents (2015) - music by George Fenton and Simon Chamberlin


  • Wrestling With Elephants (The Authorized Biography of Don Black) by James Inverne (Sanctuary Publishing, 2003 - ISBN 1860744680)[23]


  1. "On making classical music appeal to younger audiences". BBC. 29 September 2008. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  2. Layne, Joslyn (21 June 1938). "Don Black - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  3. "FreeBMD Entry Info". Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  4. "Don Black Discography". Discogs. 21 June 1938. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  5. "Press Office - Network Radio Programme Information Week 34 Lyrics By Don Black Feature". BBC. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  6. James Inverne (5 April 2004). Walking With Elephants: The Authorised Biography of Don Black. Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1860745776.
  7. "Time & Place: From Russia with love to Hackney". The Times. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
  8. London Magazine Celebrity Homes - Don Black Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  9. John Nathan, "Don Black: Star lyricist puts a productive life into words", Jewish Chronicle, 2 September 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  10. "Don Black lyricist". Archived from the original on 27 April 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  11. Robertson, Peter (4 March 2016). "Don Black: I can't read music but I've written five James Bond songs". Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  12. The Guinness encyclopedia of popular music - Volume 1 - Page 426 1561591769 Colin Larkin - 1995 "renewed his partnership with Geoff Stephens for a concept album of a 'revuesical' entitled Off The Wall, the story of 'six characters determined ..."
  13. "Profumo musical set for West End". The Belfast Telegraph. 28 June 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  14. "Stage Version of Mrs. Henderson Presents Will Premiere in Summer 2015". Playbill. 17 October 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2015.
  15. "Mrs Henderson Presents at Theatre Royal, Bath". The Times. 27 August 2015. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  16. Reynolds, Gillian (12 March 2014). "Gillian Reynolds: Moira Stuart triumphs as Radio 2's chic presenter". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  17. "Born Free: The Don Black Songbook - Don Black : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. 28 December 1995. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  18. "2007 Award and Induction Ceremony". Songwriters Hall of Fame. 7 June 2007. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
  19. "Lyrics By Don Black, with Friedman, Mead, Webb and More, Plays London Palladium Aug. 17 | Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  20. Desk, BWW News. "Michael Ball To Guest In DON BLACK: A LIFE IN SONG, Royal Festival Hall, Oct 3". Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  21. "Diamonds are Forever: The Don Black Songbook - BBC Four". BBC. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  22. "Obituary: Michael Black – effervescent booker with an unmatched portfolio of British and American stars". The Stage. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  23. James Inverne (2003). Wrestling With Elephants: The Authorised Biography of Don Black. Sanctuary. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
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