In Memory: Emil Richards (1932-2019)

The ASA remembers the life and career of veteran Hollywood percussionist Emil Richards, who died in Los Angeles on December 13, 2019 at the age of 87.

Richards started playing the xylophone at age six. In high school he performed with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. He studied with Al Lepak at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, graduating in 1952. After being drafted, he belonged to an Army band in Japan and played with Toshiko Akiyoshi. He cites Lionel Hampton as his first and biggest influence on vibraphone.

In 1954 Richards moved to New York City, where he played with Charles Mingus, Ed Shaughnessy, and Ed Thigpen while doing studio recordings for Perry Como, the Ray Charles Singers, and Mitchell Ayres. For about three years he was a member of a group led by George Shearing, then moved to Los Angeles and worked with Don Ellis and Paul Horn. He led his own band, the Microtonal Blues Band, and spent time with composer and inventor Harry Partch. As a sideman, he accompanied George Harrison on tour and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Doris Day, Judy Garland, Nelson Riddle, Steely Dan, and Sarah Vaughan.

Richards worked often as a studio musician for movies and television. He has led a band with Joe Porcaro, and he released a solo album, The Wonderful World of Percussion. As a member of studio musician group “The Wrecking Crew,” Emil played percussion on over two thousand film and TV scores including: Star Wars, Star Trek, bongos on the original Mission Impossible, and bowls for the original Planet of the Apes.

At the Academy of Scoring Arts, we were honored to have enjoyed Mr. Richards on multiple occasions, the most recent being his 2018 appearance at our Legends event where we looked at the score to Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes, which Mr. Richards performed on, and was also responsible for much of its innovative percussion textures.

In honor of Mr. Richards’s life, the board of the Academy of Scoring Arts has elected to publish the entirety of the Planet of the Apes event, normally available for members only, to the general public for a limited time. This video will be available until January 4, 2020. Please enjoy the video and spread the word about this unforgettable event.