Jerry Herman is an American composer and lyricist best known for composing the scores of Hello Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. Born in Manhattan as Gerald Sheldon Herman, Jerry Herman was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, by his Jewish parents. Herman was very musical, learning to play piano and taking an interest in musicals from an early age. His mother, Ruth Sachs, worked in hotels as a singer and pianist before becoming an English teacher. Herman was very involved in musical productions through summer camps, which he attended from the ages of 6 to 23. At the age of 17, Herman was introduced to Frank Loesser, a Broadway composer, who encouraged Herman to continue composing. After graduating high school, Herman briefly attended the Parsons School of Design before transferring to the University of Miami’s theatre department. He produced, wrote, and directed musicals while at school and graduated in 1953 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama, and later a Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1980.
Following his graduation, Herman moved to New York City to pursue a career on Broadway. He produced an off-Broadway revue entitled I Feel Wonderful (1954), which was composed of material Herman had written during college. This would be the only show his mother saw before she passed away from cancer in 1954, which was a massive impact on Herman’s life. Herman put on more revues featuring his compositions until 1960, when he made his Broadway debut with his revue From A to Z, which featured contributions from composer Fed Ebb. Herman’s first full Broadway production, Milk and Honey, premiered in 1961 and featured a story about the founding of the state of Israel.
Herman’s first major success came from his production of Hello, Dolly! in 1964. The production starred Carol Channing and swept the Tony Awards, winning a record of 10 awards. Until 2001, Hello, Dolly! remained the most awarded show in any season of the Tony Awards. His next success was Mame (1966), which starred Angela Lansbury. Other musicals Herman composed at this time included Dear World (1969), Mack and Mabel (1974), and The Grand Tour (1979). Herman’s third hit was La Cage aux Folles (1983), which premiered at the height of the AIDS epidemic and was one of the first successful Broadway musicals to be centered around a gay couple.
Jerry Herman is the first composer to have three musicals run for more than 1500 consecutive performances, the only composer/lyricist to have three original productions open on Broadway at the same time, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Herman was inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame in 1982 and he received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2010. In his personal life, Herman had a deep love of decorating and took a break from composing after the failure of Mack and Mabel to redecorate and sell houses. His partner, Terry Marler, was a real estate broker and their home was featured in Architectural Digest. Herman was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and passed away at age 88 from pulmonary complications in Miami on December 26, 2019.
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