Tom Lehrer

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Songwriter, satirist, pianist, mathematician and (so-called) singer, born April 9, 1928. As a graduate student at Harvard University he began to write comic songs to entertain his friends, which later became the "The Physical Revue". Influenced mainly by the musical theatre, his style consisted of parodying the then current forms of popular song. For example, his desire to write list songs, (à la Danny Kaye's "Tchaikovsky") saw him set the the periodic table to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Major General's Song". Inspired by the success of his songs he paid for some studio time to record an album, "Songs Of Tom Lehrer", which he sold by mail order. Unpromoted, the album, which included the macabre ("I Hold Your Hand In Mine"), the lewd ("Be Prepared") and the mathematical ("Lobachevsky"), became a success via word of mouth. With a cult hit, he embarked on a series of concert tours, and released some new material on "An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer", later repackaged as "More of Tom Lehrer".

By the early 1960s Lehrer had retired from touring (which he intensely disliked) and was employed as the resident songwriter for "That Was The Week That Was", a satirical TV show. An increased proportion of his output became overtly political, or at least topical, on subjects such as pollution ("Pollution"), Vatican II ("The Vatican Rag"), race relations ("National Brotherhood Week") and nuclear proliferation ("Who's Next?").

He announced that he was giving up satire when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. After this date he concentrated on teaching both mathematics and musical theatre, and writing the occasional educational song for the children's TV show "The Electric Company". In the early 1980s Tomfoolery, a revival of his songs on the London stage, was a surprise hit.

Selected Reviews:

"Plays the piano acceptably" -- Oakland Tribune
"More desperate than amusing" - New York Herald Tribune