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date: 06 April 2020

Newman, Randy [Randall Stuart]free

  • Jon Pareles
  •  and Jennifer Matthews

(b Los Angeles, CA, 28 Nov 1943). Popular singer, songwriter, and pianist. He was born into a musical family: three of his uncles, Alfred, Lionel, and Emil, composed and conducted film scores in Hollywood (see Alfred Newman and Lionel Newman). His family lived in various Southern cities, then, when Newman was seven, they settled in Los Angeles where he began to take piano lessons. He had begun writing songs by the age of 15 and while still in high school he was hired by Metric Music in California as a staff songwriter for a salary of $50 a week. Newman attended UCLA, where he studied music composition but left before completing his degree.

While at Metric, Newman wrote songs that were performed by many artists including the Fleetwoods, Gene McDaniels, and the O’Jays. One of his first songs to be widely recognized is “I think it's going to rain today,” recorded by Judy Collins in 1966. Other artists have continued to record and perform his material over the years: Three Dog Night sang a truncated version of “Mama told me not to come” (1970), and Bonnie Raitt (1997) and Neill Diamond (2010) have both covered “Feels Like Home” from his musical Faust.

Newman began to record his own songs in 1968. He wrote and arranged all of the material on Randy Newman Creates Something New under the Sun, often using a full orchestra. It was this setting that allowed Newman's vocal delivery—drawling, untrained—to stand out, thus heightening the irony of his lyrics and the stories present in his songs. His concise songs—many of the early ones are less than two minutes long—generally narrate stories and often incorporate a device Newman refers to as the untrustworthy narrator. In “Davy the Fat Boy,” for instance, the narrator presents himself as Davy's best friend, promising to take care of him when Davy's parents’ die, yet he turns Davy into a carnival attraction sideshow. Newman has returned frequently to this device in various guises throughout his songwriting career. He is a slow songwriter and established an early pattern of completing enough songs to fill an album every two to three years, recording the album, and then making a tour. The songs range from the standard pop structure of verse and chorus to through-composed pieces. His work varies from a traditional rock style to jazz, blues, show tunes, and classical sources. Early songs that attracted attention include “Short People” (1977) and “I Love L.A.” (1983).

In 1970 Newman began his foray into the world of film scores with his work on Cold Turkey with Norman Lear; that year he also conducted the music for Performance, which starred Mick Jagger. However, Newman dismissed this effort later, crediting his orchestrator Arthur Morton, instead. Newman did not compose for film again until 1981, when he wrote for Miloš Forman's Ragtime, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for the song “One More Hour.” In 1984 he earned his second Academy Award nomination and a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental for his work on The Natural. Newman has subsequently continued to write film scores and has been nominated for and won several Academy Awards. He has had frequent pairings with the Walt Disney animation division, on such films as the Toy Story trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010), Cars (2006), Cars 3 (2017), and The Princess and the Frog (2009).

Despite his work in film, Newman has continued to write and produce albums of his own songs for release. Harps and Angels (Nonesuch, 2008) displays the same characteristics as his earlier albums. Newman is widely respected in both the rock and film score communities and continues to tour venues around the world.

Selected recordings

Randy Newman Creates Something New under the Sun (Reprise, 1968)

12 Songs (Reprise, 1970)

Sail Away (Reprise, 1972)

Good Old Boys (Warner Bros. and Rhino, 1974)

Little Criminals (Warner Bros., 1977)

Born Again (Warner Bros., 1979)

Trouble in Paradise (Warner Bros., 1983)

Land of Dreams (Reprise, 1988)

Faust (Reprise, 1995)

Bad Love (Dreamworks, 1999)

Harps and Angels (Nonesuch, 2008)


Film scores

Cold Turkey (dir. N. Lear), 1971

Herbstkatzen (dir. R. Klaholz), 1981

Ragtime (dir. M. Forman), 1981

The Natural (dir. B. Levinson), 1984

Gotcha! (dir. J. Kanew), 1985

Huey Long (dir. K. Burns), 1985

¡Three Amigos! (dir. J. Landis), 1986

Avalon (dir. B. Levinson), 1990

Awakenings (dir. P. Marshall), 1990

Maverick (dir. R. Donner), 1994

The Paper (dir. R. Howard), 1994

Toy Story (dir. J. Lasseter), 1995

James and the Giant Peach (dir. H. Selick), 1996

Michael (dir. N. Ephron), 1996

Cats Don’t Dance (dir. M. Dindal), 1997

A Bug's Life (dir. J. Lasseter and A. Stanton), 1998

Pleasantville (dir. G. Ross), 1998

Toy Story 2 (dir. J. Lasseter and A. Brannon), 1999

Meet the Parents (dir. J. Roach), 2000

Monster's, Inc. (dir. P. Docter, D. Silverman, and L. Unkrich), 2000

Mike's New Car (dir. P. Docter and R. Gould), 2001

Seabiscuit (dir. G. Ross), 2003

The Making of “Seabiscuit” (dir. L. Bouzereau), 2003

Meet the Fockers (dir. J. Roach), 2003

Cars (dir. J. Lasseter and J. Ranft), 2006

The Road to Cars (dir. T. James), 2006 [TV film]

Leatherheads (dir. G. Clooney), 2008

The Princess and the Frog (dir. R. Clements and J. Musker), 2009

Toy Story 3 (dir. L. Unkrich), 2010

Monsters University (dir. D. Scanlon), 2013

Cars 3 (dir. B. Fee), 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (dir. N. Baumbach), 2017


  • K. Courrier: Randy Newman's American Dreams (Toronto, 2005)
  • J. Matthews: Randy Newman's Songs (1968–2008) (diss., U. of Kentucky, forthcoming)
  • A. Murphy: “Randy Newman: Shaping a Complicated Musical Landscape,” Sound and Music in Film and Visual Media, eds. G. Harper, R. Doughty, and J. Eisentraut (New York, 2009), 472–79
  • D. Stafford and C. Stafford: Maybe I’m Doing it Wrong: The Life & Music of Randy Newman (London, 2016)