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Composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, who wrote the scores for Hello, Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles, among other hit productions, was born in Jersey City on this date in 1931. Herman immersed himself in musical theater at the University of Miami, then burst upon the Broadway scene in 1961, writing music and lyrics for Milk and Honey, which was nominated for both a Tony and Grammy Award. Hello Dolly! came next in 1964, with Louis Armstrong’s recording of the title song becoming one of the most successful Broadway “crossover” hits in history. “Unlike such contemporaries as Stephen Sondheim . . . Herman was not much interested in developing the art of the musical theater in new, more serious, or avant-garde directions,” writes William Ruhlmann at AllMusic.com. “On the contrary, he was quoted as saying that he wished he had been born 30 years earlier, so that he could have worked in the era of light musical comedy as purveyed by predecessors like Irving Berlin. He wanted to write optimistic, entertaining shows with catchy tunes and happy endings.” As a young man, Herman studied interior design at Parsons School of Design, and in the course of his lifetime he has designed and decorated thirty-eight residences. He was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985. To see a short documentary about his theater achievements (narrated by Angela Lansbury), look below.
“I don’t think there’s anything more gratifying in my business than to know the work will go on after I’m not here anymore. Because I don’t write for 1964, or for 1997. I write songs that I hope will still be hummed years from now.” --Jerry Herman
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.