In Memoriam: Marilyn Bergman, Oscar-Winning Lyricist, former CISAC and ASCAP President

Marilyn Bergman ASCAP

The great lyricist and former ASCAP and CISAC President Marilyn Bergman has died at the age of 93. An Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe-winning, Hall of Fame Songwriter, Bergman and her husband Alan contributed some of the most beloved songs of all time in a career spanning over 60 years. 

Bergman was a leading advocate for creators internationally, serving two terms as President of CISAC, between 1994 and 1998.  In the United States, she was the first woman elected to ASCAP's Board of Directors and elected as ASCAP's President and Chairman. Her 15-year tenure as ASCAP President and Chairman, from 1994 to 2009, was marked by a series of noteworthy achievements, all of which have had a positive and lasting impact on music creators. 

Bergman’s leadership graced numerous other organisations across the world. She received France's highest cultural honour, Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters) and a cultural Medal of Honour from SGAE, the Spanish authors society. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the Music Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Songwriters and the Nashville Songwriters Association. She was also appointed the first Chairman of the National Recorded Sound Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

In a statement, ASCAP President and Chairman, songwriter Paul Williams said: "It is with deep sadness that I personally, and all of ASCAP, mourn the passing of Marilyn Bergman – one of the greatest lyricists who ever lived and truly ASCAP royalty. She was a brilliant songwriter who together with her husband, Alan Bergman, gave us some of the most beautiful and enduring lyrics of all time. She was a tireless and fierce advocate for music creators not only during her term as President and Chairman of ASCAP but throughout her life.  Our community will miss her intelligence, her wit and her wisdom. Alan – we mourn with you and your family."

As a songwriter, Bergman’s honours include three Academy Awards, four Emmy Awards and two Grammy Awards. Marilyn and Alan won Oscars for the songs "The Windmills of Your Mind" (from The Thomas Crown Affair) and the title song from The Way We Were (both also received Golden Globe awards, and "The Way We Were" earned two Grammys); they also earned an Oscar for the score for Yentl. Her four Emmys were for SybilQueen of the Stardust BallroomOrdinary Miracles and A Ticket to Dream

Marilyn was a political and social activist force in her own right. In 1974 the American Film Institute (AFI) created the Women’s Directing Workshop. Marilyn along with Anne Bancroft, Dyan Cannon and Randa Haines were invited to participate in the class of ‘75. In 1984, Marilyn, along with ten other women, founded the powerful political PAC, The Hollywood Women’s Political Committee (HWPC), that raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates. It was described as the “single most powerful entertainment group in politics.”

Bergman was also a steadfast, passionate voice for the rights of music creators, and maintained a strong presence on Capitol Hill. She helped lead ASCAP to several major legislative victories, including the Supreme Court's decision in 2003 to uphold the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which extended copyright protection an extra 20 years – to the life of the author plus 70 years. Other legislative highlights include:

  • Helming ASCAP through the modernization of the Federal consent decree that governs ASCAP's operations
  • Leading ASCAP's lobbying effort that helped secure the passage and signing of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 – bringing the US into line with World Intellectual Property Organization treaties and strengthening music copyrights on the Internet
  • Appointed to the US Department of Commerce Private Sector Advisory Council on the National Information Infrastructure, as the sole creative artist on the Council
  • Serving on the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIIAC) from 1994 to 1995, at the request of Vice President Al Gore
  • Serving two terms (from 1994 to 1998) as President of CISAC, the International Confederation of Performing Right Societies
  • Appointed the first Chairman of the Library of Congress National Academy Sound Recording Preservation Board

Bergman played a key role in the launch of A Bill of Rights for Songwriters and Composers, an ASCAP advocacy and awareness-building initiative designed to remind the public, the music industry and Members of Congress of the central role and rights of those who create music. 

Bergman was instrumental in the launch of the ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO, the premier conference for songwriters, composers and producers, which continues to this day as the ASCAP Experience.

She was also a strong supporter of music education. Under her leadership, ASCAP established numerous programs [eg. Children Will Listen, Creativity in the Classroom and the Junior ASCAP Members (J.A.M.) Program] to teach young people about the creative process and the rights inherent in the creation of music. 

Bergman presided over the largest expansion of ASCAP membership in the history of the organisation to that point – growing from 55,000 when she assumed the Presidency in 1994 to a membership of more than 350,000 music creators when she stepped down in 1999.

After 32 years of service, Bergman became ASCAP Writer Board member emeritus in 2017.

She is survived by her husband Alan, their daughter, producer Julie Bergman Sender (Major LeagueG.I. JaneThe Fabulous Baker BoysSix Days Seven Nights), son-in-law iLan Azoulai and granddaughter Emily Sender.

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