SOCAN member Galt MacDermott, best known as the Grammy- and Tony-winning composer of the music for the groundbreaking hippie Broadway musical Hair (which he later adapted for the 1979 film), has died at the age of 89, one day before his 90th birthday, of unknown causes.
The Montréal-born MacDermot won his first Grammy Award for the Cannonball Adderley recording of his song “African Waltz” (the title track of the album of the same name) in 1960. His most successful musicals were Hair (1967; its cast album also won a Grammy) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971), which won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Three of the songs from Hair hit the top of the charts in 1969: “Aquarius,” “Let the Sunshine In,” and “Good Morning Starshine.” In 2003, “Aquarius” was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and SOCAN honoured MacDermot with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 SOCAN Awards in Toronto.
Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical has been called Broadway’s first rock musical, and one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. Record-breaking audiences flocked to see it across Europe, in London’s West End, and in Japan, Israel, and Australia. The music for the show employed elements of rock, R&B and funk.
Said MacDermot of his work on it, “I was interested in jazz and rock and roll….so theatre was another world to me.” But when he was approached by writers James Rado and Gerome Ragni, he accepted the challenge. “I was given the lyrics to the show, not all at once, but they gave me about 10 and then they kept writing new ones. I set them all to music.”
In recent decades, MacDermot’s work enjoyed something of a renaissance with hip-hop musicians, who have extensively sampled his work. Those include old-school rappers Busta Rhymes, Run DMC, Handsome Boy Modelling School, DJ Vadim, DJ Premier, and Oh No, as well as more current ones like MF Doom and J-Dilla.
Galt McDermott is survived by his son, Vincent, and daughters Elizabeth, Jolanthe, Sarah, and Molly (MacDermott Boxer).