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The Broadway community honors the memory of four-time Tony Award®-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick, whose extensive six-decade career created some of Broadway’s most cherished lyrics and memorable musicals. Mr. Harnick passed away on June 23, 2023, at the age of 99. On November 9, 2023, the Committee of Theatre Owners will dim the lights of Broadway theatres in New York for one minute at exactly 6:45pm, in his honor.
“Sheldon Harnick was one of Broadway’s most profound lyricists and his songs are part of Broadway tradition,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “His work on Fiddler on the Roof created immediate and beloved classics. Songs such as “Tradition;” “Sunrise, Sunset;” and “If I Were a Rich Man” helped make the show one of Broadway’s longest-running musicals in history at the time. Generations of audiences continue to be inspired by his lyrics which evoke so much emotion and brilliantly bring powerful stories to life.”
Harnick's first song for a Broadway show was the hilarious "Boston Beguine" for Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952. He then contributed songs to the revues Two's Company (starring Bette Davis), John Murray Anderson's Almanac, and The Littlest Revue. His collaboration with composer Jerry Bock produced such Broadway classics as Fiorello! (1959): 1960 Pulitzer Prize, 1960 Tony Award Best Musical winner; Tenderloin (1960); She Loves Me (1963): Grammy Award; Fiddler on the Roof (1964): 1965 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Composer and Lyricist; The Apple Tree (1966); and The Rothschilds (1970). Other endeavors include A Christmas Carol with Michel Legrand (1981); Rex with Richard Rodgers (1976); A Wonderful Life with Joe Raposo (1986); and The Phantom Tollbooth with Arnold Black (1995). For Dragons and Malpractice Makes Perfect, he provided book lyrics and music, He has written songs for the films The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Blame It On Rio (1984) both with music by Cy Coleman; and Aaron's Magic Village (1995) with Michel Legrand.
In the 1970s, Mr. Harnick expanded his field of activities by translating L'Histoire du Soldat (Stravinski), L'Enfant et les Sortileges (Ravel), Bizet's Carmen, and Lehar's The Merry Widow. This latter translation was commissioned for the New York City Center production starring Beverly Sills. Ms. Sills' recording won a Grammy Award as the year's best-recorded opera. Mr. Harnick also translated Michel Legrand and Jacques Demy's film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg for the stage.
The 1970s also saw Mr. Harnick's entry into the world of opera. With composer Jack Beeson, he has provided the librettos for Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (1975), Dr. Heidegger's Fountain of Youth (1978), and Cyrano (1994). Other operas include Love in Two Countries with Thomas Shepard (1991) and Coyote Tales with Henry Mollicone (1998).
In 2015, Harbinger Records released, "Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures." The two CD set includes more than 50 rare demo recordings written for 17 of his shows, with performances by Harnick and composer Jerry Bock, as well as Audra McDonald, Brian d'Arcy James, Hugh Martin, Margery Gray Harnick, and Charlotte Rae to name a few. That same year, The York Theatre Company produced the world premiere of Rothschild & Sons, a reimagining of The Rothschilds. A cast album was also released.
Mr. Harnick was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning three for the productions of Fiorello! (1960) and Fiddler on the Roof (1965). In 2016, he received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre, and a Special Lifetime Achievement Award from The Outer Critics Circle.
In addition, he has won a Pulitzer Prize, two Grammy Awards, two New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, three gold records, and a platinum record.
He and his wife, photographer Margery Gray, have collaborated on two extraordinary picture books, "The Outdoor Museum (Not Your Usual Images of New York)", and “KOI: A Modern Folktale” which features her photographs and his poetry.
In 2019, the first ever Fiddler on the Roof documentary, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles was released in over 126 movie theatres nationwide with Mr. Harnick at the forefront as the film’s narrator. The film includes tales from incarnation to the most recent Yiddish language production of the iconic musical.
He and his wife celebrated their 55th anniversary in 2020 and together they had two children, Beth and Matthew and four grandchildren. Mr. Harnick was a long-time member of both the Dramatists Guild and the Songwriters Guild of America.
Mr. Harnick’s full Broadway biography can be found on the Internet Broadway Database.