Words and Music by Jerry Herman, a documentary about the Broadway composer and writer of Milk and Honey, Hello Dolly!, Mame, and La Cage Aux Folles will air tonight on PBS at 9:30 p.m. Mr. Herman wrote the words and music for some of the greatest Broadway musicals ever mounted and is the winner of two Tony awards, including best composer and lyricist for Hello, Dolly! According to press notes, with his ebullient, optimistic and hummable songs that exemplify the "show tune," Jerry Herman extended the Golden Age of Broadway almost single-handedly, as new generations keep discovering his tuneful, optimistic and deceivingly simple songs. Yet, as Michael Feinstein says, "Jerry has succeeded so well in his mission that people don’t give him credit … because to be simple without being cliche is nearly impossible."
Born on July 10, 1931 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Herman is the offspring of Harry Herman who taught physical education in the New York City public school system and Ruth Herman who was also a teacher for a while. In his memoir Showtune, Herman credits his love of music to his mother, Ruth, and tells a story that was related to him by his cousin Millicent: When Ruth was pregnant with him and experienced her first labor pangs, she went to the piano and started playing a song. Her relatives were on the verge of hysteria and couldn’t understand what this soon-to-be-mother was doing. Ruth Herman calmly replied, "I want my child to love music."