David Foster

A protégé of Quincy Jones, he rivalled Jones as Los Angeles' leading producer during the early 1980s, making his reputation on the basis of the aggressive role he took in the studio in the writing (or rewriting) and arranging of material.

Foster, David
Foster's multifaceted career has made him one of the most influential international figures in popular music (photo courtesy davidfoster.com).

Foster, David

  David (Walter) Foster. Record producer, composer, pianist, singer, b Victoria, BC, 1 Nov 1949; honorary D MUS (Victoria) 1995, honorary D MUS (Berklee) 2002. David Foster began playing piano at five and worked in his teens in England with a Victoria rock band, the Strangers, and in Toronto with Ronnie Hawkins. As a member of the Vancouver band Skylark he went to Los Angeles in 1972. With the group's demise the following year (despite the popularity of 'Wildflower' from the LP Skylark, Cap ST-11048), Foster remained in Los Angeles. He worked there initially as a studio musician (for Michael Jackson, George Harrison, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, and others) and in 1976 undertook a career as a record producer.

A protégé of Quincy Jones, he rivalled Jones as Los Angeles' leading producer during the early 1980s, making his reputation on the basis of the aggressive role he took in the studio in the writing (or rewriting) and arranging of material. David Foster's production credits included albums or parts thereof by Peter Allen, Chicago, Alice Cooper, Céline Dion, Earth Wind & Fire, Hall & Oates, the Payola$, Boz Scaggs, and the Tubes, and individual songs recorded by Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Barbra Streisand, and many others. In 1985, while living briefly again in Vancouver, he co-wrote and produced 'Tears Are Not Enough'. His greatest successes as producer and/or writer included the songs 'Hard to Say I'm Sorry,' 'Hard Habit to Break,' and 'You're the Inspiration' (recorded by Chicago), 'St Elmo's Fire' (John Parr), 'After the Love Has Gone' (Earth Wind & Fire), and 'Twist of Fate' (Olivia Newton-John), all 'top 5' hits according to Billboard magazine charts.

Producer and Songwriter

David Foster received some 24 (US) Grammy Award nominations 1979-89, including six for 1985 alone. He won or shared five: best R&B song (1979, 'After the Love Has Gone'), best cast show album (1982, Dreamgirls), producer of the year (1984, Chicago 17), and two for best instrumental arrangement accompanying a vocal (1984, 'Hard Habit to Break' and 1986, 'Somewhere,' as recorded by Streisand). Foster also won Juno Awards as producer of the year in 1985 for Chicago 17 and in 1986 for the soundtrack of St Elmo's Fire ; his instrumental Love Theme from the US film was popular in 1985. He shared the 1986 CCMA song of the year award with Charles Goodrum and Jim Vallance for the Anne Murray hit 'Now and Forever.'

David Foster's domination of pop music sales continued into the 1990s, with several additional Grammys for record and album of the year and as producer and arranger: in 1992 for Unforgettable, sung by Natalie Cole; in 1994 for the soundtrack for The Bodyguard; in 1994 and 1997 for recordings by Céline Dion and Cole. Other notable production successes included Dion's "The Power of Love," which reached number one on the charts. He produced further albums and songs for Streisand, Michael Jackson, Josh Groban, and Kenny G, among others. By 2010, Foster had earned an extraordinary 15 Grammys from 46 nominations, and between 1991 and 2010 received 10 Juno nominations for producer of the year.

Songbooks of Foster compositions have been published by Warner/Chappell Music Canada and Hal Leonard.

Pianist and Performer

Under his own name, David Foster made several albums of instrumentals and songs: The Best of Me (1982-3, Sound Design/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFCD-810), David Foster (Atlantic 78-16421, released in 1986), The Symphony Sessions (1987, Atlantic 78-17994), and River of Love (Atlantic CD-82162, released in 1990). A vocal duet with Olivia Newton-John, 'The Best of Me,' was popular in 1986, and Foster's rousing Winter Games, the theme of the Winter Olympics in Calgary, was a Canadian hit in 1988. David Foster: Rechordings (1991, Atlantic 82296) featured the songwriter performing his hits. He performed his "Looking Through Your Eyes" on the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack of Quest for Camelot (which he also produced) in 1998; other soundtrack production or performance credits included Sleepless in Seattle, Evita, and Moulin Rouge.

Foster received Juno Awards 1986-7 and 1989 as best instrumental artist, and was elevated to the Juno Hall of Fame in 1998. He appeared in concert at Expo 86 and, in moving during the late 1980s to more frequent performances, played with symphony orchestras in Vancouver, Toronto, and elsewhere. He was host for variety specials seen on CBC and CTV, including 'The Symphony Sessions' (with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) in 1988. In 2001 he appeared again with that orchestra to record his own arrangements of the Canadian national anthem (O Canada 2001, Warner Music 2 40050). He hosted or produced numerous benefit concerts.

Honours and Assessment

Foster was named Billboard's top singles producer and R & B producer in 1993; in 2003 he was honoured with Hollywood's Outstanding Achievement in Songwriting Award. With his wife the lyricist Linda Thompson, he received an Emmy Award for The Concert for World Children's Day. He formed the production company 143 Records, and was appointed senior vice-president of Warner Music Group in 1997, for whom he launched the careers of several young singers of pop, ballads, and jazz, including the Canadian Michael Bublé. Foster's music typically is wholesome mainstream pop, giving offence to some only by its sentimentality; trademarks of his ballads are layered strings, orchestral crescendos, and a detailed production style.

David Foster formed a charitable foundation in B.C. for children in need of medical transplants. He was named father of the year by the Fathers' Day Council in 1991, and was inducted into the Order of B.C. in 1995, appointed Officer to the Order of Canada in 2006, inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010.

Further Reading

  • Mackie, John. 'An unknown who's up for six Grammy awards,' Vancouver Sun, 26 Jan 1985

    Grierson, David A. 'David Foster: superstar producer,' CanMus, vol 7, Mar 1985

    O'Hara, Jane. 'Mixing the sweet sound of success,' Maclean's, 6 May 1985

    Johnson, Brian D. 'Hit man,' SatN, vol 100, Nov 1985

    'Man in Motion,' supplement, Billboard, 26 Jul 1986

    Castro, Peter and Gold, Todd. "Mix master," People Weekly, 7 Nov 1994

    Thompson, Doug. "David Foster inducted into Juno Hall of Fame," The Record, 30 Mar 1998

    Lang, Robert, ed. Contemporary Canadian Musicians (Toronto 1998)