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Harnick, Sheldon



  • Existence: 1924    


Sheldon Harnick was born in Chicago on April 30, 1924. In elementary school he began studying the violin. In 1943, while serving for the U.S. Military, he wrote and performed songs. Three years later Harnick enrolled at Northwestern’s School of Music on the GI Bill to study the violin. His first year at Northwestern he contributed one song sung by Charlotte Ray, and the second year he wrote four songs for the Waa-Mu Show. In his third year Harnick wrote one comedy sketch and six songs, and in his last year he wrote ten songs for the show. He was also a violinist in the Waa-Mu orchestra. When Harnick graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1949, he continued writing lyrics for six more Waa-Mu shows until 1960.

After college he worked as a violinist in a dance band at a Chicago hotel, but moved one year later to New York City to write songs for musical revues on and off Broadway. His first song on Broadway was “The Boston Beguine” in the show “New Faces” in 1952. Over the next years he contributed lyrics to several musicals on Broadway, until he met the composer Jerry Bock. This was the start of a long and successful partnership. The Bock & Harnick musical “Fiorello!” which was performed in 1959 earned the Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. In 1964 Bock & Harnick created the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” for which they won the Tony Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, a gold record, and a platinum record. The stage production of the musical became the longest-running show in Broadway history, a record held until 1979.

The production “The Apple Tree” followed in 1966, “The Rothschilds” in 1970. A solo work written in 1984, “Dragons,” premiered at Harnick’s alma mater, Northwestern University.

Since then Harnick has provided English-language librettos for classical operas, written numerous lyrics, translated Yiddish songs, and composed theme songs for films. He is a member of The Dramatists Guild and the Songwriters Guild of America. He was awarded the Johnny Mercer Award, presented by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Marc Blitzstein Memorial Award for achievement in the creation of opera librettos, presented by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and Honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters awarded by the Illinois Wesleyan University, and Muskingum College. He was also awarded the University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit, and honored at the Twenty-Sixth Annual William Inge Theatre Festival in Kansas in 2007. In 2009 Harnick and Jerry Bock were presented the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre.

Harnick lives with his wife Margery in New York.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Jean Cantwell-Sheldon Harnick Papers

Identifier: 31/6/106

Sheldon Harnick is a lyricist of numerous musical productions performed at broadway and other musical theatres and operas. As a major in violin at NU School of Music he began writing lyrics for the Waa-Mu show. In 1960 he won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993. He lives with his wife in New York City.

Dates: 1947-2011; Other: Date acquired: 02/07/2013