Beloved Broadway composer Jerry Herman remembered

Jerry Herman taught a master class at the University of Miami in 2014. Photo: University of Miami file photo
By News@TheU

Jerry Herman taught a master class at the University of Miami in 2014. Photo: University of Miami file photo

Beloved Broadway composer Jerry Herman remembered

By News@TheU
The University of Miami alumnus is remembered for his brilliant work in theater, and his commitment, passion, and inspiration to the University and its students.

Jerry Herman, the heralded, award-winning Broadway composer who penned uplifting and inspirational musicals like “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame,” and is one of the University of Miami’s most distinguished alumni, passed away Thursday in Miami. He was 88. 

Herman’s brilliant work earned him two Tony Awards for best musical for “Hello Dolly” and “La Cage aux Folles,” and two Grammy Awards for “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly!,” which opened in 1964 and at the time became Broadway’s longest running musical with more than 2,800 performances. Over his career he wrote 10 Broadway shows, and is considered a legend among his peers for his simple and heartfelt messaging and melodies. 

In an interview with the Associated Press in 1995, Herman said that “critics have sort of tossed me off as the popular and not the cerebral writer, and that was fine with me. That is exactly what I aimed at.” 

The University of Miami community on Friday celebrated Herman and his achievements and the love he shared for the University. 

"Jerry Herman's talent and creativity left an indelible legacy at the University of Miami, where we will always treasure his many memorable compositions," said President Julio Frenk. "Our hearts go out to his loved ones during this difficult time." 

Jerry HermanHerman graduated from the University in 1953 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and received a D.F.A. degree in 1980. The University awarded him the Order of Merit in 1971, the Alumnus of Distinction in 1975, and the New York Alumnus of Distinction in 1992. The Jerry Herman Ring Theatre on the Coral Gables campus bears his name.

After graduation, the New York native returned home. In 1961 he received his first Tony nomination for the score of “Milk and Honey.” His most revered musical, “Hello, Dolly!” premiered in 1964, followed by “Mame” in 1966, “Dear World” in 1969, “Mack and Mabel” in 1974, “The Grand Tour” in 1979, and “La Cage aux Folles” in 1983. Herman was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1986. 

“We are deeply saddened by news of Jerry Herman’s passing,” said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, which includes the Department of Theatre Arts. “His profound contribution to the world of Broadway and musical theatre illustrates his remarkable gift in creating narrative through the art of songwriting. He will live on as a major visionary and inspirational source for our talented students in the Department of Theatre Arts.” 

Shelton Berg, dean of the Frost School of Music, said Herman’s “beloved and upbeat songs have lifted the spirits of generations and will continue to do so in the decades to come. Jerry Herman was perhaps the greatest melody writer of American Musical theater.” 

Throughout his career Herman always stayed connected to the University and often credited his success to what he learned about theater and drama during his time on the Coral Gables campus. He taught a master class during a visit in 2014.

Hilarie Bass, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, said Herman had a strong personal commitment to the University and wanted to share his experiences and knowledge with students during his visits. 

“Whatever small part the University of Miami played in helping to develop the genius of Jerry Herman, it makes me feel wonderful to think that hundreds of millions of people around the world have had their lives benefited by his contribution to the arts,” she said.

The ring theatre first opened in July 1951, and its unique circular design was inspired by the make-shift theatre in the Anastasia Building the drama department had been using since 1946.

The theatre was renovated and rededicated to Herman in 1966. More than $1.7 million in renovations to the 14,589-square-foot complex included a new stage and seating area, which was named in honor of the Alvin Sherman Family.  

Funding for the renovations was provided by two benefit performances presented by Herman in the ring theatre in April and May 1992, which raised more than $50,000. In December 1992, Herman made an additional personal gift of $300,000.  

Jerry Herman Ring TheatreOn Jan. 19, 1993, the University’s Board of Trustees executive committee passed a resolution renaming the ring theatre as “The Jerry Herman Theatre Complex,” in honor of Herman’s professional success and long-term generosity to and support of the University. 

Michael Bush, assistant professor of practice and artistic director of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, said Herman created some of the best loved musicals of the 20th century and his contributions to American Musical Theatre are profound. 

“His songs were light personified. Melodic and positive, they glorified the best human instincts in all of us,” said Bush. “Unabashedly sentimental, he believed that life was to be celebrated. Even in a dark and troubled world, his work, to quote one of his songs from ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ insisted that the best of times is now.”