Sheldon Harnick: Celebrating the Life and Legacy

Sheldon Harnick: Celebrating the Life and Legacy

Three-Time Tony Award, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning author Sheldon Harnick passed away on Friday, June 23. A lyricist of iconic classics from the musical theatre songbook, including Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, and She Loves Me, Harnick created timeless, moving, and brilliantly witty songs with his frequent composing partner, Jerry Bock, that warmed the hearts of audiences for more than 50 years.

Harnick was born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, and moved to New York City in the 1950s where he met Jerry Bock. Together, and with his lyrics, he cemented his place among Broadway's legends and gave a voice to memorable characters like Tevye and Amalia Balash.

Their collaborations span a length of 12 years, beginning with The Body Beautiful in 1958. They would go on to write Fiorello!,which debuted in 1959 to rave reviews and was lauded by critics and audiences alike. They would win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1960, one of 10 musicals in history to do so.

Three years later, they would go on to create two incredibly groundbreaking musicals that changed the genre of musical theatre as a whole. She Loves Me premiered in 1963, and was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and has gone on to have two major Broadway revivals and a West End production.

In 1964, Fiddler on the Roof premiered and for almost 60 years has had an incredible cultural influence not just in theatre, but in music, television and film. The musical has been performed in dozens of countries around the world, with more than 20 major productions and revivals and has influenced many musical theater songwriters from multiple generations. 

“In addition to all the accolades that are being listed in articles about Sheldon, it is essential to note his role as a mentor to so many young writers in our community. Without fanfare, Sheldon made himself available to countless aspiring and established theatre writers seeking professional advice and creative input on their projects.", said MTI president Drew Cohen. "In addition, Sheldon was immensely proud to have Fiddler included among the early Broadway Junior titles at the suggestion of Freddie Gershon. He delighted in seeing young performers recite his lyrics, including the below irresistible performance from 2016’s Junior Theater Festival (PS124 school performing). He was an outspoken member of the MTI family and will be greatly missed.”

Harnick would go on to create more incredibly complex, touching, and inspiring bodies of work, including The Apple Tree, Rothschild & Sons, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Tenderloin. As we mourn his passing, we celebrate his legacy. To life, Sheldon!