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Jerry Herman, Broadway composer who penned LGBT anthem ‘I Am What I Am’, dies aged 88

Josh Milton December 27, 2019
Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman walks the red carpet at the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center Hall of States on December 5, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman walks the red carpet at the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center Hall of States on December 5, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Leaving behind a rich, rousing track record of Broadway hits, American composter Jerry Herman has died aged 88.

His death was confirmed by Jane Dorian, his goddaughter, to the Associated Press.

Across the 1960s, he penned hit after hit, such as Hey, Dolly and Mame as well as the LGBT+ anthem, ‘I Am What I Am’.

‘The lights will go out on Broadway marquees tonight.’

Diagnosed with HIV in 1985, he died in Miami, US, on December 26 of pulmonary complications.

The New Yorker’s upbeat, nationalist melodies drew packed theatres across the States, emerging in the post-war era ad the natural successor to Irving Berlin.

Choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne led tributes to the musician, describing him as “one of the all-time greats.”

While countless queer fans thanked Herman for his tireless activism and his songs that will continue to inspire LGBT+ people for generations to come:

Who was Jerry Herman?

Born in 1931 to teachers and amateur musicians who ran a summer camp in upstate New York, Herman’s love for theatre was birthed after he saw Ethrel Merman perform in Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun.

In a half-century of work, Herman tallied two Tony awards and two Grammys, five off-Broadway refuses, wrote musical scores for four films and inspired an uncountable number of LGBT+ people to be who they are.

Jerry Herman and Elton John pose outside the press room during the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2009 in New York City. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Jerry Herman and Elton John pose outside the press room during the 63rd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2009 in New York City. (Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

He also made stage history as the first composer to have three musicals run more than 1,500 consecutive performances on Broadway: Hello, Dolly with 2,844, Mame with 1,508, and La Cage with 1,761.

But he didn’t just break Box Office records.

In 1983, Herman had his third hit with La Cage aux Folles, a show that was notable for being one of the first hit Broadway musicals entered around a same-sex couple. The show also featured the queer anthem, ‘I Am What I Am’.

Running for four years, it was a lightning rod for critics both queer and straight, dubbing it cautious on the eve of the AIDS crisis.

But Herman stood his ground. “One day when they are old and grey they will realise what this show is doing for their cause and send a thank-you note,” he said at the time.

 

 

 

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