The Caped Crusaders Composers: Shirley Walker - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Caped Crusaders Composers: Shirley Walker

Chris Morley gets animated.
Although we previously explored the aesthetic of Tim Burton's Batman, we turn now to look at the life & career of a woman whose association with both Danny Elfman & DC Comics stretches back to her stint as conductor on that 1989 film. Shirley Walker then extended to television where she served as composer for Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995), Superman: The Animated Series (1996–2000), The New Batman Adventures (1997–1999), and Batman Beyond (1999–2001); setting a standard for the musical tone of the DC Animated Universe.

Walker started out as a pianist with the San Francisco Symphony before attending the city's university on a music scholarship, and began a film scoring career in 1979 with synthesiser contributions to the Apocalypse Now soundtrack. By the early Nineties she would make a bit of history as one of the first female composers to get a solo credit on a feature film, John Carpenter's Memoirs Of An Invisible Man. She would later work with him again on Escape From LA, alongside her time as a board member of the Society for Composers & Lyricists, speaking up for her fellow men & women of music and their working conditions as a regular contributor to its magazine, The Score, with articles written both about & by her before her death from a stroke at 61 in 2006.
Among the tributes paid were this by Animation Magazine.......
“She was perhaps best known for scoring episodes of the popular 1990s Warner Bros. Animation shows Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series,The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond, as well as Todd McFarlane’s animated Spawn series. Other credits include the much-loved 1993 animated feature film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and 1998’s The Batman/Superman Movie, as well as the live-action Final Destination movies. Walker’s next project was to be Bruce Timm’s DC: The New Frontier.”
Speaking to Cinemusic in 2000, she seemed to somewhat understate her own legacy!
"If you're a person that can come in and write at the last minute and get something to work, and still protect a score and the composer whose name is on it, the studios need that and I was very good at it."
Film Score Monthly's own tribute specifically talked up her work with the Dark Knight into the bargain.
"She wrote in an orchestral style that is very classical and very bold, and her orchestrations are very innovative and distinctive . The animated 'Batman' series set a new bar, both visually and musically, for animated music."
It also proved influential in many other ways...
“The bleak, gothic tones that dominated Burton’s two movies were so popular that they even went on to influence The Animated Series. The dark noir feel from the movies was carried over to the show for their otherworldly timelessness.

Even the score of the show was a variation of the movies' theme by Danny Elfman-it helped them get away with more than your average kid’s show. The envelope was constantly being pushed, and the show touched upon a lot of mature subject matter.

There were implications of parental abuse, explicit drug references, gritty depictions of violence, and more sexual innuendos than an Austin Powers movie. Bruce Timm and his crew knew just what to cut out to get it on the air, so even while a lot of references aren’t explicitly stated, they are heavily implied, like one episode at a bakery where Harley Quinn asks Mr. J is he wanted to "try her pie."
It also won Walker her first Daytime Emmy Award, coming in 1996 for Batman: The Animated Series. She won another Daytime Emmy in music-composition for Batman Beyond in 2001. After her death a Shirley Walker Award was inaugurated to honour those whose work has gone towards aiding diversity in film & TV music. Its first winners were Wendy & Lisa, perhaps better known for their association with Prince as part of the Revolution.

Walker's long-time agent could just as easily have been talking about either of them in saying,
“She had a fierceness. She wasn’t going to be typecast to do a delicate score. She was going to show she had the muscle and power of any other composer out there, and she did.”
Hans Zimmer struck a similar note,
“[Shirley Walker was] of the most incredible composers I’ve ever met, and the way she fought for the rights of musicians- she was really nice but she could have a real edge to her. I loved the edge.”
She was also a great encouragement to younger musicians, making it her mission to see if she could find the next generation of orchestral film composers and give them a chance to do this work (one of those was a fellow female, Lolita Ritmanis, who we'll cover in more detail next time). Walker understandably felt moved to hymn her “determination to open doors of opportunity for aspiring composers.” And yet she didn't appear in the In Memoriam section of the Oscars the year she died, retrospectively quite the snub.

As Soundtrack reported...
“Sources in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences say that Walker's absence from the segment was a difficult decision - it's not that they forgot about her, but rather they had time considerations and after much wrangling, she didn't make the cut.“
A massive oversight, you'll surely agree? One hopefully put right here.
“It's a shame, since she was truly a pioneer of the film music industry, and a role model for female composers worldwide. In life she was constantly overlooked because of her gender, and it's truly shameful that even in death, she can't get the proper recognition she deserves.“
So ends the same piece, but hopefully we can sign off following our tribute to her work and career having slightly redressed that particular balance.

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