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Composer/arranger Kenyon Hopkins is probably best remembered today for his work as music director for the television series The Odd Couple and The Brady Bunch, but his work in music long predated and easily transcended any hit television series. Hopkins' career bridged two musical periods, from the end of the big-band era to post-war filmmaking, and he was good enough to work with some of the best in both fields. But it was as a creator of instrumental mood music — what we now call space age pop — that he first insinuated himself on the public.
Born in Coffeyville, Kansas, Hopkins was the son of a minister. He was raised in Michigan and studied music theory and composition at Oberlin College and Temple University, graduating from the latter school in 1933. Hopkins headed for New York City, where he soon began getting work as an arranger, primarily in association with conductor Andre Kostelanetz. He later spent three years employed by Paul Whiteman, and moved into arranging, composing, and conducting for radio and the theater. After a three-year stint in the Coast Guard during World War II, he returned to music and became an arranger/composer for bandleader Raymond Paige.
As a recording artist, he was initially signed to Capitol Records, for which he cut a trio of mood instrumental albums (i.e., bachelor pad recordings): Ridin' the Rails, Contrasting Colors, and Swingin' Serenade. He made his biggest mark, however, with a series of atmospheric mood albums cut in collaboration with producer Creed Taylor, entitled Shock!, Panic!: Son of Shock, Nervous Beat: Lonelyville, New York, New York: The Sound of New York, and Ping Pang Pong: The Swinging Ball — the latter an extraordinary percussion showcase record — for ABC-Paramount in the late '50s. Hopkins was already under contract to Capitol Records, for which he had recorded a trio of LPs, which resulted in his ABC albums being credited to the Creed Taylor Orchestra.
Hopkins made his career primarily in New York during the '50s — for ten years, from 1951 until 1961, he was the chief composer and arranger at Radio City Music Hall. Hopkins first started writing music for films in 1956 with Elia Kazan's Baby Doll and Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men. Hopkins maintained a dual career over the next several years, alternating between movies, radio, and theater, with the occasional recording, and even a classical piece or two worked in between these assignments: his serious works include a ballet entitled Rooms (which was recorded and released by Cadence Records), "Symphony in Two Movements," and "Town and Country Dances for Chamber Orchestra." He also spent 1963-1964 as the director of music for the CBS radio network. Hopkins signed to Verve Records in the early '60s, which became one of the primary outlets for his subsequent soundtrack work, but also released a series of Sound Tour LPs devoted to different countries, which was more mood music of an international flavor.
In television, Hopkins was the music director for the groundbreaking dramatic series East Side/West Side starring George C. Scott, and also for the programs Hawk, The Reporter, and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and occasional documentaries such as The Dialogue of Archibald MacLeish and Mark Van Doren. He was one of the most respected serious composers working in television, and two of the pieces on the Ping Pang Pong LP had actually been written as interpretive dance works that were performed on The Perry Como Show, no less. His film scores also stood out in sharp contrast to much of the competition at the time, and Hopkins became known for writing music that utilized very spare instrumentation and individual sections of the orchestra, effectively proving that less is more where certain dramatic subjects were concerned. The Fugitive Kind and Wild River were successful enough, and he was also the music director and composer on one Elvis Presley movie, Wild in the Country.
Hopkins seemed to resonate extremely well to urban settings, especially New York's streets. His score for Robert Rossen's The Hustler was a case in point, a jazzy, near-minimalist body of music, moody and atmospheric yet so unobtrusive that it worked at the edges of the viewer's consciousness, often with only a handful of instruments at any given moment. Hopkins did similarly inspired work on the New York-filmed The Borgia Stick and Mr. Buddwing, as well as the New York-based series East Side/West Side, although he also ranged to subjects such as the ski drama Downhill Racer.
In 1970, Hopkins became the director of music for Paramount Pictures' television division, which was how he became the music director on series such as The Odd Couple, Love American Style, and The Brady Bunch. On Love American Style, his scores skirted romance and comedy, while on The Odd Couple, he made inspired use of Neal Hefti's original movie theme material.