Walter Anthony Murphy, Jr. (born December 19, 1952) is an American instrumentalist, songwriter, and arranger. He rose to fame with the hit instrumental "A Fifth of Beethoven", a disco adaptation of passages from the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, in 1976, when disco was at the height of its popularity.

Early life

Murphy was born on December 19, 1952, in New York City, New York, and grew up in Manhattan. At age four, he attended music lessons hosted by Rosa Rio, studying an array of instruments, including the organ and piano. Rio frequently opted for him to star in television advertisements for the Hammond organ. Murphy studied classical piano and attended Mount Saint Michael Academy, where he studied jazz and played a number of his own compositions. Referring to his studies, Murphy stated "There never was a time when I wasn't studying music." Against the objections of his father, who was a real estate agent and wished to pass down his business to his son, Murphy enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music in 1970; recalling his experiences with his father, Murphy stated "He wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer--or something you can depend on." During the year, Murphy married his wife Laurie, who worked in the plastics industry.

While attending the institution, he wrote for the jazz ensemble. During an appointment with Bobby Rosengarden, bandleader of the Dick Cavett Show orchestra, Murphy convinced the group to play some of his arrangements when he found Rosengarden to be absent. Looking back on the situation, he stated "I still can't believe I did it. I'm not a very forward person." Since the band "wasn't very busy," they performed his arrangements live and enjoyed them, convincing Murphy to write more. In April 1972, a fellow student from the Manhattan School of Music introduced Murphy to Doc Severinsen, musical director of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; he presented his arrangements to Severinsen, who liked them enough to have the Tonight Show Band play them live; however, the Tonight Show moved production to Burbank, California a year later, much to Murphy's disappointment. From 1974 to 1976, he also wrote jingle music for a variety of fashion brands, including Lady Arrow shirts as well as Revlon and Woolworth's, as well as arrangements for the popular television series Big Blue Marble.

Musical career

In 1974, Murphy was writing a disco song for a commercial, when the producer gave him the idea of "updating classical music," which "nobody had done lately." He then mailed a demo tape to various record labels in New York. Although response was unimpressive, a rendition of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5 In 'C' Minor" generated interest amongst the owner of Private Stock Records, Larry Uttal. Murphy agreed to produce the song under contract and recorded it in 1976, creatively dubbing it "A Fifth of Beethoven". The record was credited to "Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band" upon encouragement from the company, who believed it would become a hit if credited to a group rather than an individual. However, two days following the record's release, Private Stock discovered the existence of another Big Apple Band; the record was later re-released and credited to "The Walter Murphy Band" before dropping the tradition altogether.

The song was a smash hit, and reached number 80 on the Hot 100 on May 29, 1976, eventually reaching number 1 within nineteen weeks, where it stayed for one week. An album under the same name was released later during the year; the album notably featured a rendition of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" entitled "Flight '76", which reached number 44 on the Hot 100. He released four albums within the following six years, and in 1982, released his final single, a medley of "Themes From E.T. (The Extra-Terrestrial)" which climbed to 47 on the Hot 100.

Murphy, back to jingle writing, has written music for numerous cartoons and TV shows, including Channel Umptee-3, Family Guy, its recent offshoot album, Family Guy: Live in Vegas, the main title music for The Cleveland Show and the main title music for American Dad!. The song "You've Got A Lot To See", composed for the Family Guy episode "Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows" won the award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics at the 2002 Emmy Awards. Murphy described the orchestral score for Family Guy as "a combination of big-band swing and action-orchestral." He is supposedly scoring MacFarlane's upcoming film, Ted (2012).

Filmography

Year

Film

Role

Notes

1976

Don Kirshner's Rock Concert

Self

TV series (guest star), Episode: "Episode #3.5", Episode: "Episode #4.5",

Credited alongside his orchestra as Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band.

The Midnight Special

Self

TV series (guest star),

Credited alongside his orchestra as Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band.

Dinah!

Self

TV series (guest star),

Credited alongside his orchestra as The Walter Murphy Band.

2005

Score! The Music of 'Family Guy'

Self

Special feature included on the Family Guy volume three DVD.

2009

Family Guy: Creating the Chaos

Self

Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show

Self