Galt MacDermot

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Arthur Terence Galt MacDermot (December 18, 1928 – December 17, 2018) was a Canadian-American composer, pianist and writer of musical theatre. He won a Grammy Award for the song "African Waltz" in 1960. His most successful musicals were Hair (1967; its cast album also won a Grammy) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971). MacDermot also composed music for film soundtracks, jazz and funk albums, and classical music, and his music has been sampled in hit hip-hop songs and albums. He is best known for his work on Hair, and in particular three of the songs from the show; "Aquarius", "Let the Sunshine In", and "Good Morning Starshine", all three of which were number one hits in 1969.


MacDermot was born in Montreal, Quebec, the son of Canadian diplomat Terence William Leighton MacDermot and Elizabeth Savage. He was educated at Upper Canada College and Bishop's University (Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada). He received a Bachelor of Music from Cape Town University, South Africa and made a study of African music his specialty. He also studied the piano privately with Neil Chotem.[1] It was also during his time at Cape Town where he would meet his future wife, Marlene Bruynzeel.

MacDermot won his first Grammy Award for the Cannonball Adderley recording of his song "African Waltz" (the title track of the album of the same name) in 1960.[2]

MacDermot moved to New York City in 1964 where, three years later, he wrote the music for the hit musical Hair, which he later adapted for the 1979 film. Its Broadway cast album won a Grammy Award in 1969. The song from the musical Hair "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" reached number one for six weeks in 1969. The song Hair reached number one on the charts in 1969.[3] His next musicals were Isabel's a Jezebel (1970) and Who the Murderer Was (1970), which featured British progressive rock band Curved Air.[4] MacDermot had another hit with the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971), which won the Tony Award for Best Musical. For that show, MacDermot was nominated for a Tony for best music and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music. His later musicals, however, including Dude and Via Galactica (both 1972) and The Human Comedy (1984), were not successful on Broadway.

MacDermot's film soundtracks include Cotton Comes to Harlem, a 1970 blaxploitation film starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques and Redd Foxx, based on Chester Himes' novel of the same name; Rhinoceros (1974) starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and directed by original Broadway Hair director Tom O'Horgan; and Mistress (1992).[2] MacDermot wrote his own orchestrations and arrangements for his theatre and film scores.[2]

In 1979, MacDermot formed the New Pulse Band, which performs and records his original music. The band played as part of the on stage band in the 2009 Broadway revival of Hair. MacDermot's oeuvre also includes ballet scores, chamber music, the Anglican liturgy, orchestral music, poetry, incidental music for plays, band repertory and opera.[2]

In 2009 MacDermot was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.

On November 22, 2010, MacDermot was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by SOCAN at the 2010 SOCAN Awards in Toronto.[5]

MacDermot died on December 17, 2018, one day before his 90th birthday.[6] He is survived by his five children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Samples and other use[edit]

MacDermot's music is popular with collectors of jazz and funk. Working with jazz musicians such as Bernard Purdie, Jimmy Lewis and Idris Muhammad, MacDermot created pieces that prefigured the funk material of James Brown. In recent decades, his work has become popular with hip-hop musicians including Busta Rhymes, who sampled "Space" from MacDermot's 1969 record Woman Is Sweeter for chart-topper "Woo hah!!", and Run DMC, who sampled the Hair song "Where Do I Go?" for their Grammy Award-winning "Down with the King".[2] Handsome Boy Modelling School ("The Truth"), DJ Vadim, DJ Premier and Oh No have all sampled the same segment from "Coffee Cold", from Shapes of Rhythm (1966).

Scottish electronica-duo Boards of Canada used a loop in their song Aquarius (Music Has the Right to Children) sampled from MacDermot´s song Aquarius from the 1979 soundtrack for the film "Hair".

As part of his Special Herbs series, rapper MF Doom sampled three MacDermot songs from Woman Is Sweeter: "Cathedral" for his song "Pennyroyal", "Space" for "Cinqfoil", and "Princess Gika" for "Styrax Gum".[7] In 2006, rapper, Oh No, released an album produced completely with MacDermot samples, titled Exodus into Unheard Rhythms.[8]



(excluding cast albums and soundtracks)

  • Art Gallery Jazz (1956)
  • African Waltz (1960)
  • The English Experience (1961)
  • Shapes of Rhythm (1966)
  • Hair Cuts (1969)
  • Woman is Sweeter (1969)
  • Galt MacDermot's First Natural Hair Band (1970)
  • New Pulse Band (1979)
  • Purdie as a Picture (1994)
  • Reflections of a Radically Right Wing Composer (1992)
  • The Thomas Hardy Songs (1997)
  • Up from the Basement Volumes 1 & 2 (2000)[9]
  • Corporation (2000)
  • Foolish Lover (2001)
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar in Song (2001)
  • Asian Suite (2005)
  • Many Faces of Song (2009)
  • Sun (2009)
  • The Sun Always Shines for the Cool (2014)
  • Air & Angels (2017)


  1. ^ "Galt MacDermot". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived February 13, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e "MacDermot's Official Website". Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  3. ^ "The Hair Pages". Archived from the original on October 27, 2009.
  4. ^ "Who the Murderer Was". Archived from the original on May 19, 2006. Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  5. ^ "2010 SOCAN AWARDS | SOCAN". Archived from the original on October 17, 2017. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  6. ^ "Galt MacDermot, Composer of Hair, Dead at 89". Playbill. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  7. ^ "MF Doom". Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  8. ^ "Oh No – Stones Throw Records". Retrieved September 27, 2014.
  9. ^ "The Musical Works of Hair Composer Galt MacDermot,". Archived from the original on September 25, 2014. Retrieved September 27, 2014.

External links[edit]