Galt MacDermot, Composer of Hair and Two Gentleman of Verona, Dies at 89

MacDermot also penned the score of ”The Human Comedy”.

Galt MacDermot (center) with Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Hair star Gavin Creel.
Galt MacDermot (center) with Public Theater Artistic Director Oskar Eustis and Hair star Gavin Creel.
(© Joseph Marzullo)

Galt MacDermot, the Canadian-American composer of Hair and other musicals, died at the age of 89 on the morning of December 17. He was one day shy of his 90th birthday.

Born Arthur Terence Galt MacDermot in Montreal, MacDermot received a Bachelor of Music from Cape Town University in South Africa, specializing in African music. He won his first Grammy Award in 1961 for the Cannonball Adderley recording of his song "African Waltz."

Moving to New York City in 1964, MacDermot shortly thereafter met the writer-performers James Rado and Gerome Ragni and collaborated with them on the off-Broadway musical Hair. Opening at the Public Theater on October 17, 1967, it eventually moved to Broadway, opening April 29, 1968. MacDermot received the a Drama Desk Award and a 1969 Grammy for Best Original Cast Album for his score, which includes now-beloved classics like "Aquarius," "Let the Sun Shine In," and "Good Morning Starshine."

MacDermot's next big hit was Two Gentlemen of Verona, which premiered at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in 1971 before moving to Broadway later that year. MacDermot received another Drama Desk Award for the production, which beat Grease and Follies for the coveted Best Musical Tony Award that season (MacDermot was nominated for Best Score, but lost to Stephen Sondheim). His other Broadway musicals included the less-successful The Human Comedy, Via Galactica, and Dude.

Among his film soundtracks were Cotton Comes to Harlem, a 1970 blaxploitation film starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, and Redd Foxx and Rhinoceros starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. In 1979, MacDermot formed the New Pulse Jazz Band, which performs and records his original music. That band served as the onstage band in the Tony-winning 2009 Broadway revival of Hair.

MacDermot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.