September 27, 2023

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Stephen Lawrence, Whose Music Enriched ‘Sesame Road,’ Dies at 82

Stephen Lawrence, who supplied a soundtrack of kinds for many childhoods as the audio director for the landmark “Free to Be … You and Me” album and television special and as a longtime composer for “Sesame Road,” died on Dec. 30 at a health care middle in Belleville, N.J. He was 82.

His wife, Cathy (Merritt) Lawrence, reported the cause was many organ failure.

Mr. Lawrence had a present for catchy tunes and music constructions that would charm to young minds.

“One of the most helpful units, and for little ones 1 of the most important, is repetition,” he wrote in “How to Compose Songs for Small children,” an essay on his weblog. “Did you compose a 1st line you like? Why not repeat it?”

The essay went on to clearly show how composers from Beethoven to John Lennon had finished just that, and Mr. Lawrence employed the unit usually on “Sesame Street” classics like “Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange),” a jaunty 1981 selection with lyrics by David Axelrod.

1 of Mr. Lawrence’s most fascinating tunes was also one of his first for the children’s market place: the title monitor of “Free to Be … You and Me,” the star-studded 1972 album and e book conceived by Marlo Thomas. The file, complete of songs and tales celebrating tolerance and busting gender stereotypes, became an enduring hit and was not long ago picked for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry of culturally substantial works.

Mr. Lawrence, working with the lyricist Bruce Hart, was offered the job of coming up with the opening number. A memorable folk melody recorded by the New Seekers, it begins with a banjo, an instrument not normally heard in the pop and rock new music of that time.

“Banjo was ideal for the introduction of this song,” Mr. Lawrence mentioned on the radio application “Soundcheck” in an interview marking the 40th anniversary of the album. “It is type of timeless. It says joy. It states non-sophistication — despite the fact that some of the album is quite complex. It states: ‘Listen up. This is an unconventional instrument you really don’t listen to each day. It is heading to established up a track you are heading to like.’”

Ms. Thomas had recruited a formidable roster of stars to accomplish on the record. In addition to crafting the new music for numerous of the songs, Mr. Lawrence, as the project’s tunes director, experienced the job of overseeing recording classes. That meant doing work with a quirky array of performers, some of them experienced singers and some of them, like Mel Brooks and the soccer participant Rosey Grier, not.

Mr. Lawrence was a relative unknown at the time. Recording Diana Ross singing “When We Grow Up” (one more “Free to Be” music for which he wrote the audio) at Motown’s studios in Los Angeles offered him with a pinch-myself instant.

“I arrived at Motown Studios and thought about the a lot of well-known recording artists who had recorded there, none more well-known than Diana Ross,” he wrote on his site. “I realized that the total ‘Free to Be’ challenge was lifting my career to new heights.”

The album was a runaway finest vendor, and Mr. Lawrence went on to compose extra than 300 music for “Sesame Avenue.” Starting in 1989, he was nominated consistently, together with the show’s other composers and lyricists, for Daytime Emmy Awards for new music path and composition. He received 3 periods.

Mr. Lawrence did not perform only on children’s materials. He composed the audio for the 1973 baseball drama “Bang the Drum Slowly,” the 1976 horror film “Alice, Sweet Alice” and other movies, and collaborated on various phase musicals.

Ms. Thomas, nevertheless, explained he was the fantastic alternative to achieve young audiences.

“‘Free to Be … You and Me’ was to start with and normally a children’s project,” she explained by e mail, “so it demanded a composer and musical director who could develop songs that sparked the imaginations and touched the hearts of girls and boys everywhere. Stephen was that individual. I liked him and I beloved performing with him.”

Stephen James Lawrence was born on Sept. 5, 1939, in Manhattan. His father, Allan, was head of a production organization, and his mom, Helen (Kupfer) Lawrence, was a homemaker.

He grew up in Good Neck, on Prolonged Island. He started taking piano lessons at 5, and at 17 he won a New York radio station’s jazz piano contest the prize was lessons with the pianist Mary Lou Williams.

Although majoring in tunes at Hofstra College or university (now Hofstra University), in which he graduated in 1961, he composed audio for university student displays and other entertainments. A single was a musical, “The Sensitive Contact” the reserve and lyrics were by a fellow pupil, Francis Ford Coppola.

Mr. Lawrence came to the “Free to Be” undertaking as a result of Mr. Hart, with whom he experienced prepared some tunes and whose spouse, Carole Hart, was creating the challenge with Ms. Thomas. The two women of all ages asked Mr. Hart and Mr. Lawrence to arrive up with a tune that would introduce the album and convey what it was about. It was Mr. Hart who arrived up with the phrase “Free to be you and me” and developed that plan into a entire music lyric, which he presented to Mr. Lawrence.

“As at times comes about,” Mr. Lawrence recalled in his site, “I obtained an strategy right absent and finished the song in 1 day.”

The label, Bell Information, advised the group to assume to sell about 15,000 copies. In its place gross sales soared previous the million mark. A 1974 tv model, with Mr. Lawrence as audio director, included to the phenomenon.

The Harts (he died in 2006, she in 2018) and Mr. Lawrence labored with each other on other assignments, such as the 1979 television motion picture “Sooner or Afterwards,” which yielded the Rex Smith hit “You Just take My Breath Away,” created by Mr. Hart and Mr. Lawrence.

Mr. Lawrence commenced writing for “Sesame Street” in the early 1980s and continued to do so for decades. The job gave him a opportunity to indulge in a vast assortment of musical styles. Just one of his earliest compositions for the show was “Kermit’s Minstrel Song” (1981, lyrics by Mr. Axelrod), which known as to head Renaissance-period tunes. Ms. Lawrence mentioned 1 of her favorites was “Gina’s Dream” (lyrics by Jon Stone), in which Mr. Lawrence did a very superior career of imitating Puccini.

Mr. Lawrence lived in Bloomfield, N.J. His marriage to Christine Jones finished in divorce in 2000. In addition to his spouse, he is survived by a daughter from his to start with marriage, Hannah Jones Anderson Ms. Lawrence’s sons, Sam and Nicholas Kline and a grandson.