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Tom Lehrer

Tom LehrerTHOMAS ANDREW “TOM” LEHRER (1928 – ) was born into an American Jewish family in Manhattan. He began studying classical piano at age 7 but became more interested in popular music and ultimately studied with a popular-music teacher. Soon he began composing funny songs and tunes.

Lehrer studied at the Horace Mann School in New York City and graduated at the age of 15. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Harvard University in 1946, at age 18, and earned his master’s the following year. While an undergraduate at Harvard, Lehrer began writing comic songs to entertain his friends, including “Fight Fiercely, Harvard” (1945). Those songs later were named The Physical Revue, a joking reference to a leading scientific journal, The Physical Review. Lehrer remained in Harvard’s doctoral program for several years — taking breaks to serve in the U.S. Army and pursue his music — but never completed his dissertation. He ultimately went on to teach at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California at Santa Cruz.



Watch a performance of
“Hanukkah in Santa Monica” »


Lehrer’s early work typically dealt with non-topical subject matter and was noted for its black humor, such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” In the 1960s, he produced a number of songs dealing with social and political issues of the day, particularly when he wrote for the U.S. version of the television show That Was the Week That Was. In the early 1970s, he mostly retired from public performances to devote his time to teaching mathematics and musical theater but also wrote 10 songs for the educational children’s television show The Electric Company. (Harvard schoolmate Joe Raposo was the show’s musical director for its first three seasons.) In the early 1980s, TomFoolery, a revival of Lehrer’s songs on the London stage, was a surprise hit. Although not the show’s instigator, Lehrer eventually gave it his full support and updated several of his lyrics for the production.

In 1998, Lehrer performed in public for the first time in 25 years at the Lyceum Theatre, London, as part of the gala show Hey, Mr. Producer!, which celebrated the career of impresario Cameron Mackintosh (who had been the producer of TomFoolery). And, in 2000, a CD box set, The Remains of Tom Lehrer, was released by Rhino Entertainment.

Read more about Tom Lehrer:

« Looking For Tom Lehrer, Comedy’s Mysterious Genius

« Whatever Happened to Tom Lehrer?

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