Galt MacDermot, ‘Hair’ Composer, Dies at 89

Share This:

Galt MacDermot, the composer of the music for the landmark Broadway musical Hair, died Dec. 17. The cause and place were not reported, but his death was confirmed by his granddaughter. MacDermot was one day short of his 90th birthday at the time of his death.

In addition to 1967’s Hair, credited as the first rock musical to hit the Broadway stage, MacDermot was also responsible for the music of 1971’s Two Gentlemen of Verona and many other shows.

Arthur Terence Galt MacDermot was born Dec. 18, 1928, in Montreal and received a bachelor’s degree in music from South Africa’s Cape Town University. He studied African music while in that country, while also studying piano. His composition “African Waltz” won a Grammy in 1960 as recorded by the jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.

A few years after relocating to New York City in 1964, MacDermot was chosen by the writers of the musical Hair—then set to open at the off-Broadway Joe Papp’s Public Theatre in Greenwich Village—to compose songs for their show, despite having no experience with rock music. In a quote given to Playbill, MacDermot said, “I never even heard of a hippie when I met them. What I got on to was the music of the times. I had just moved back from South Africa, so I was very into African music, and the rock ’n’ roll that was happening in the ’60s was that, so when they said, ‘We want to do a rock ’n’ roll show,’ I said to them, ‘That’s exactly what I want to do.’”

‘Hair’ authors (L. to R.) Jim Rado, Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni

Hair became not only a hit musical once it moved uptown to Broadway’s Biltmore Theater in April 1968 but a cultural phenomenon—one that courted much controversy due to its then-unprecedented use of nudity and drug references. Among the actors who would perform in the show at one time or another during its two-year run were such stars (and those on their way) as Meat Loaf, Joe Butler of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Melba Moore, Ben Vereen, Peppy Castro of the Blues Magoos and Vicki Sue Robinson.

A scene from the original Broadway musical Hair in 1968

Hair spawned several major chart hits including the title track (by the Cowsills), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” (by the 5th Dimension), “Easy to Be Hard” (Three Dog Night) and “Good Morning Starshine” (Oliver). The original cast album reached #1 on the Billboard album chart and sold a reported three million copies, winning a Grammy for Best Score From an Original Cast Show Album. The musical was staged in multiple cities in the U.S. as well as in London, and was adapted for film in 1979. A revival on Broadway in 2009 won a Tony Award.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, based on Shakespeare’s comedy, earned MacDermot a Drama Desk Award for his score and the show itself won the Tony for Best Musical. His later Broadway projects were not as successful. He also worked in the film medium and formed a jazz band. Some of his songs have been sampled by hip-hop artists.

Related: When Hair ruled the charts

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

Watch the opening of the film version of Hair, featuring “Aquarius.”


Best Classic Bands Staff

No Comments so far

Jump into a conversation

No Comments Yet!

You can be the one to start a conversation.

Your data will be safe!Your e-mail address will not be published. Also other data will not be shared with third person.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.