Editor’s Note: As SportsCenter approaches its 50,000th episode (expected to be Thursday, Sept. 13’s 6 p.m. ET show), Front Row will present content related to the show and the milestone. Today, meet SportsCenter theme composer John Colby.
You may not know his name, or recognize his face, but millions of people are familiar with his work. What’s more, most of those millions have hummed at least a few bars of one song in particular. Thousands more use it as their ringtone.
For the last 20 years, John Colby, a Grammy and Emmy-winning composer, producer, music director and keyboardist, has created theme and background music for virtually every televised sporting event, including two Super Bowls.
As ESPN’s music director (1984-1992), Colby helped shape the sound of ESPN in those early years, composing and producing music for hundreds of ESPN sporting events and television programs.
All that said, Colby, 63, is perhaps best known for six simple musical notes he composed in 1989 . . . six notes of an iconic melody heard every day by sports fans around the world — “DaDaDa DaDaDa” — part of the theme song to SportsCenter.
(It’s important to note here that Spinal Tap did NOT compose the theme despite what this “This is SportsCenter” ad claimed!)
“Everybody knows SportsCenter, everybody watches it, it’s absolutely a universal thing,” Colby said. “It is a tremendously gratifying thing for an artist. . . to be a part of it, whatever the small part is.”
Colby continues to serve as the music director/band leader for the ESPYS, a role he’s held since the show’s inception in 1993. Colby said he composed the theme as “work for hire” and does receive foreign royalties.
Not limited to sports, Colby received a Grammy for the soundtrack of Ken Burns’ Civil War.
He composed and produced the music for two Academy Award documentary film nominees: Burns’ The Brooklyn Bridge and Florentine Films’ The Garden of Eden.
When he’s not busy writing award-winning TV theme music, Colby is writing, recording and performing blues and old-school soul songs alongside his wife, singer Bev Rohlehr with their band “The Colbys.”
He has performed with such artists as Ray Charles, Clarence Clemons, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Delbert McClinton, Duane Eddy, Grand Master Flash, Ben E. King, Dionne Warwick and many others.
Learn more about Colby and the iconic song in the video above.
John Colby Quick facts:
Resides: Avon, Conn.
• He has composed other ESPN songs for: College football, basketball and baseball, the NFL, auto racing/NASCAR/Speedworld, Outside The Lines, ESPN News, boxing, bowling, tennis, skiing, ESPYS, golf, The Sports Reporters, ESPN Radio, NBA and more.
• Other clients include NBC, FOX and Comedy Central.
• The theme was played live on set by the Red Sox organist in 2011.
• Colby’s band played at the wedding of SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry in 1998
Rich Arden and Sheldon Spencer produced the video.