'Bonanza': Who Wrote The Famous Theme Music?

Bonanza: The Theme Song
September 17, 2020 - 09:00 / Lucas Anderson

Few tunes can match up to Bonanza's iconic theme song! The NBC Western series opened episodes with the instrumental track, also titled "Bonanza," which was written by a famous songwriting team. Over the years, other artists took on the "Bonanza" theme with lyrics as well. Here's the history of Bonanza's theme song.

Everyone knows the Bonanza theme song. But do you know who wrote it?

The instrumental tune, titled "Bonanza," is a classic of Western music and is known today even by those unfamiliar with Bonanza itself. Here are the origins of the iconic theme song.

Bonanza theme song: Who wrote the famous instrumental?

Composer-songwriter duo Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote "Bonanza." They actually completed it in one day, before the show even had a script, and sold it to NBC for $500.

Livingston & Evans were told to "Make it short, make it cheap, and make it sound like 'strong men were riding into somewhere with a Western or march flavor'," according to MeTV. They later received another $1,500 when Bonanza actually aired on NBC. The song, as it appeared on the Western series, was orchestrated by Dan Rose and arranged by Billy May. 

Bonanza's opening featured the instrumental over a burning Ponderosa map that dissolves into an introduction of cast members Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and Lorne Green (as seen below).

Several versions of "Bonanza" appeared on the show, with revised songs "The Big Bonanza" and a speedier version being used in the later seasons. The original version by Livingston & Evans also featured lyrics, which never appeared on the Bonanza TV series.

"Bonanza" - The lyric versions: Johnny Cash and more

Over the years, many artists performed versions of "Bonanza," many of them with lyrics. Al Caiola and His Orchestra first scored a Billboard hit with an instrumental version in 1961. Johnny Cash was also the first to record a full lyric version of "Bonanza," with his own rewritten lyrics, in 1962.

Another famous lyric version of "Bonanza" appeared in the TV show's pilot episode — only it was edited out of the version that aired on NBC. It featured the original "Cartwrights" singing the lyrics themselves at the end of the episode.

Bonanza aired on NBC for 14 seasons (1959-1973). Find out how well you really know the Western show by clicking here to take our quiz.