John Williams was born on Long Island, New York. He grew up there and in Los Angeles, California.
Williams hasn’t ever stated any details of his religious background or potential affiliation. All we know is that, although he doesn’t consider himself a very religious person, he seems to be open to the possibility of miracles and other-worldliness. He said,
I’m not a particularly religious person, but there’s something sort of eerie, about the way our hands are occasionally guided in some of the things that we do. . . where we come to the right solutions almost in spite of ourselves. And you look back and you say that that almost seems to have a kind of—you want to use the word divine guidance—behind it.
He hesitated to say “divine” and he never mentioned God specifically. So I’m tempted to call him agnostic. It’s as if he wants to believe, but he still isn’t quite sure.
He’s definitely more sure of his political beliefs. Williams is a Democrat, and has donated almost $10,000 to Democratic candidates since 1987.
Although he’s not out there on the front lines of the gay rights movements or defending the right of women to have legal abortions, he’s been associated with some pretty high profile Democratic events. Williams composed the piece, “Air and Simple Gifts” for Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration. He said of the experience,
The opportunity to participate in the inauguration of President Obama was certainly a special, great event in my life experience. . . . [I tried to] express, in a very simple and not ostentatious way, the solemnity and beauty of the moment and the promise of the moment.
And then during Williams’ 80th birthday celebration, Obama showed up, albeit through a video feed, to wish the famous composer a happy birthday.
As I’ve found from writing about other composers, the interviews of these behind-the-scenes Hollywood folks end up focusing less on hot button issues like religion and politics than interviews of actors do. But I think it would be a mistake to interpret that as a lack of interest in those topics. Williams is certainly a liberal, and from his financial donations, I think it’s safe to say that he’s at least a moderately passionate one.