Percy Faith, conductor, arranger, composer, pianist (born 7 April 1908 in Toronto, ON; died 9 February 1976 in Los Angeles, California).
Percy Faith, conductor, arranger, composer, pianist (born 7 April 1908 in Toronto, ON; died 9 February 1976 in Los Angeles, California). Known for his lush, elegant pop-instrumental style and lilting string arrangements, Percy Faith was one of the most prominent purveyors of easy listening music during the 1950s and 1960s. He is perhaps best known for his version of “Theme from A Summer Place” (1960), which spent nine weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won the 1961 Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Faith worked as a conductor-arranger at the CBC before moving to the US to work with NBC radio and eventually Columbia Records, where he composed film scores, released his own albums and arranged songs for such stars as Johnny Mathis, Doris Day and Tony Bennett.
Faith began playing violin at age seven and piano at 10, and performed from 1920 to 1927 as a silent film accompanist in Toronto movie houses. He studied at the Canadian Academy and then, at 14, with Frank Welsman at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music). He made his Massey Hall debut in 1923 in Liszt's Hungarian Fantasy at an annual conservatory concert.
Career in Canada
After an accident at 18 severely burned his hands and ended his career as a concert pianist, Faith turned to composition and arranging. He studied composition with Louis Waizman, and began arranging for the hotel orchestras of Luigi Romanelli and Rex Battle. From 1929 to 1934, he wrote arrangements for the CKNC radio orchestra of Geoffrey Waddington.
Faith’s own radio career began at CKCL, where he was arranger-conductor for Simpsons' Opera Hour (1927), among other programs. In 1928, he performed on CKCL with the singer Joe Allabough in a duo known as Faith and Hope. He joined the CRBC (forerunner of the CBC) in Toronto in 1933, and was arranger-conductor of Gaiety and Romance, Mardi Gras, Cosmopolitans, Streamline and Bands across the Sea (1935–38), as well as Music by Faith (1938–40), which was also broadcast in the United States on MBS.
US Radio Career
As a result of that program's US popularity, Faith moved to Chicago and became music director of NBC radio’s The Carnation Contented Hour (1940–47). He rose quickly to the front rank of US popular music arrangers. He was employed as music director of CBS’s The Pause That Refreshes (1946–49) and The Woolworth Hour (1955–57), and as arranger-conductor for Columbia Records in both New York (1950–59) and Los Angeles (1960–76).
Faith composed piano, choral and orchestra works during the 1940s, and won a $1,000 prize in Chicago in 1943 for his operetta, The Gandy Dancer. His publishers included Harms, Mutual Music and Presser. (See Catalogue of Canadian Composers for his works prior to 1950.)
Career with Columbia Records
Faith became music director at Columbia Records in 1950. He enjoyed great success with pop-song collaborations and provided arrangements for many popular singers for Columbia Records, including Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney and Burl Ives. He adapted a French folksong in collaboration with Carl Sigman for Guy Mitchell's breakthrough hit single, “My Heart Cries For You” (1950), and arranged several hits for Tony Bennett, including “Because of You” (1951), “Cold, Cold Heart” (1951) and “Rags to Riches” (1953).
With his own orchestra and chorus, Faith recorded the hit songs “Delicado” (1952) and “Song from Moulin Rouge” (1953); and won Grammy Awards with “Theme from A Summer Place” (1960) and “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” (1969). He also composed the theme song for the NBC TV series The Virginian (1962–67) and the scores for a number of films, including Tammy Tell Me True (1961), I'd Rather Be Rich (1964), The Love Goddesses (1964), The Third Day (1965), The Oscar (1966) and Love Me or Leave Me (1955), the last of which was written with George Stoll and nominated for an Academy Award in 1956.
In the early 1970s, Faith recorded instrumental easy listening versions of various popular hits, lending his signature lilting string arrangements to such songs as “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1970), “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1970) and “Black Magic Woman” (1971). He also released a disco version of his biggest hit with “Summer Place ‘76” (1975).
Faith returned to Canada often, directing Victory Bond Drive shows during the Second World War, and later conducting concerts and CBC TV specials. In 1974, he established the Percy Faith Award for music students at the University of Toronto, and similar awards at the University of Jerusalem and the University of Southern California.
His 45 albums include many of his film scores, his interpretations of Broadway musicals and three gold records: Viva (1957), Bouquet (1959) and Themes for Young Lovers (1963). More than 29,000 pages of Faith's compositions and arrangements were deposited at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
Record of the Year (“Theme from A Summer Place”), Grammy Awards (1961)
Best Contemporary Performance – Chorus (“Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet”), Grammy Awards (1970)
Joseph Lanza, Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong (St. Martin’s Press, 1994).