(In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. In the days leading up to the 56th GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 2014 Special Merit Awards recipients.)
Hear that whistling? That's not just the haunting sound of the theme to the 1965 classic spaghetti Western For A Few Dollars More, that's the signature sound of composer Ennio Morricone. And that theme was just the prelude to one of the most classic and enduring movie themes of all time: Morricone's theme to the 1966 follow-up film, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. The series of iconic Sergio Leone-directed Clint Eastwood movies (that also included A Fistful Of Dollars) and their moody soundtracks full of kitschy instrumentation had such a powerful impact on film buff-turned-filmmaker Quentin Tarantino that decades later Morricone would score Tarantino films such as Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained.
In between, Morricone scored more than 500 films and TV shows, won a 1987 GRAMMY for Best Album Or Original Instrumental Background Score for his work on The Untouchables, has been nominated for five Oscars and received an honorary Oscar in 2006 for his contributions to film, and became a towering institution in the film scoring world.
The son of a jazz trumpeter, Morricone was born in Rome in 1928. His musical gifts developed early. He was composing by age 6. In the late '50s he found work as an orchestrator and assistant to leading Italian film composer Nascio Nascimbene. Morricone himself began writing film scores in the early '60s, and early on connected with Leone's Westerns. It was during this time he began to cultivate his unique style, incorporating whistling, flutes, electric guitars, Jew's harp, and wordless choruses (with occasional vocal grunts) into his music.
He would go on to compose scores in various styles, earning Oscar nominations for Days Of Heaven (1978), The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Bugsy (1991), and Malèna (2000).
Prolific barely describes an artist who in just one year, 1969, racked up 22 different composing credits, and whose more than 500 film and TV scores since 1960 works out to more than 10 projects a year.
The wide appeal of Morricone's music and respect for the man resulted in We All Love Ennio Morricone, a 2007 tribute album featuring artists as varied as Celine Dion, Metallica, Roger Waters, and Yo-Yo Ma.
So the next time you find yourself whistling "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" — which fellow arranger/conductor/composer Hugo Montenegro took to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a sleek version in 1968 — know that you're quoting the work of a true master.