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Joe Harnell

Joe Harnell
Background information
Birth name Joseph Harnell
Born (1924-08-02)August 2, 1924
The Bronx, New York, USA
Died July 14, 2005(2005-07-14) (aged 80)
Sherman Oaks, California, USA
Genres Film score, jazz, pop music
Occupation(s) Composer, accompanist
Instruments Piano
Years active 1950–2002

Joseph Harnell (August 2, 1924 - July 14, 2005) was an American composer and arranger.


  • Early life 1
  • Music career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

His father was a vaudeville performer who also played in jazz and klezmer ensembles. Harnell began playing piano at age six and was performing in his father's ensembles by age 14. He attended the University of Miami on a music scholarship in the early 1940s, and in 1943 joined the Air Force, playing with Glenn Miller's Air Force Band. He studied with Nadia Boulanger when stationed in Paris and then under William Walton at Trinity College of Music in London. After his discharge in 1946, he studied at Tanglewood under Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Music career

Eschewing the art-music world, Harnell sought work in pop and jazz, working as a for-hire pianist after returning to car crash, and while he recovered, Kapp Records asked him to work on writing potential hits in the then-hot genre of bossa nova. Harnell's biggest success was with his arrangement of Fly Me to the Moon, which was a hit in the US in 1963 (#14 Pop, #4 AC)[1] and which won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.[2] The song also peaked at #6 in Joe's hometown, on WMCA in New York, on January 16, 1963. The album from which it was taken went to #3 on the Billboard 200.[3] Harnell would go on to release nearly 20 easy listening albums, on Kapp, Columbia, and Motown among others.

Harnell was also an integral part of The Dinah Shore Chevy Show as the "house pianist" on many episodes. Often at the end of a show Dinah would gather round Joe at the piano and she and her guests that evening would make requests of him for a song they wanted to sing. Some of those guests were John Raitt, Gisele MacKenzie, and very often, Janet Blair. It was a low key and warm way to bring the show to it's conclusion. The show ran on NBC from October 1956 to June 1963.

Starting in 1964, Harnell worked with Grey Advertising as a jingle writer, and from 1967 to 1973, he worked as musical director of The Mike Douglas Show. In 1973, Harnell moved to Hollywood and worked in film score and television composition, composing for The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, and V, for which he was awarded an Emmy in 1986.[4] Harnell also wrote the iconic signature tune introducing United Artists movies in the 1980s, as well as the theme music for the NBC daytime soap Santa Barbara. Following this he became a faculty member at USC's Thornton School of Music as an instructor in film score composition.

Personal life

Harnell published an autobiography entitled Counterpoint in 2000, co-authored with television producer/director Ira Skutch,[5] and died of heart failure on July 14, 2005.[4]

His son, Jess Harnell is a voice actor, and is best known for his work as the voice of Wakko Warner on the Steven Spielberg-produced animated television series Animaniacs.

Joe's Grandson, Jeremy, is an award-winning composer and visual artist working under the name JC Harnell or Sons of Wolves. [1] Winner of 2011 Peoples Music Award for Best Abstract/Experimental Artist. His latest visual art work is for John Lewis, plc, [2] and EASY ART. [3] New EP album out in 2013.


  1. ^ Billboard Singles,
  2. ^ Grammy Awards,
  3. ^ Billboard,
  4. ^ a b Biography,
  5. ^ Joe Harnell and Ira Skutch. Counterpoint: The Journey of a Music Man. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2000. ISBN 0-7388-4989-8, ISBN 978-0-7388-4989-8.

External links

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