Charles Strouse

On this date in 1928, composer Charles Strouse was born in New York City, where he grew up. The composer of the musical "Annie" (“The sun’ll come out tomorrow . . . ”), "Bye Bye Birdie" (“Gray skies are gonna clear up. Put on a happy face . . . ”) and the song “Those were the Days” from the TV show “All In The Family,” has become an inseparable part of the fabric of modern popular American music. His songs have been performed by almost every major vocalist, including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Mandy Patinkin, Harry Connick Jr., Bobby Rydell, Jay Z, Vic Damone, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Grace Jones and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Strouse has written the score to over 30 stage musicals, 14 scores for Broadway (including "Applause," starring Lauren Bacall, and "Golden Boy," starring Sammy Davis Jr.), four Hollywood films (including "Bonnie and Clyde," 1967, and "All Dogs Go To Heaven," 1989), two orchestral works and an opera. He has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame. He is a three-time Tony Award winner, a two-time Emmy Award winner, and his cast recordings have earned him two Grammy Awards. His song, “Those Were The Days” (for which he also played the piano), launched over 200 episodes of “All in the Family” and continues to reach new generations of television audiences in syndication. With hundreds of productions licensed annually, "Annie" and "Bye Bye Birdie" are among the most popular musicals of all time produced by regional, amateur and school groups all over the world. He "discovered" Sarah Jessica Parker, backing her selection to play the lead in "Annie" after the originator of the Broadway role outgrew it. Strouse has been married to his wife Barbara (a director and choreographer) since 1962.

“I grudgingly went to Sunday Hebrew school,” Strouse wrote in his memoirs, “but mostly, I think, we were sent just to get us out of the house. . . . We were not what you would call religious, and this has stuck with me to this day" (Put on a Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir, 2008). He describes a full and purpose-filled life, working for music as well as civil rights (a theme of "Golden Boy"). He traveled with actress Butterfly McQueen (a life-long atheist), experiencing first-hand the racial discrimination she faced in the south (he was spat upon for traveling with a black woman). He marched for civil rights with Sammy Davis, Jr., in Selma, Ala., in 1965. “Though my father wasn’t an atheist, I am,” he said on Freethought Radio (June 20, 2009). "I understand why people do believe in it [god], and frankly, I’m a little puzzled, though a little pleased, that there is a radio program like yours that talks about it, because as an atheist, at least my kind of it, I don’t need any persuasion. I’ve been persuaded for a great number of years now, by the wars, the calamaties, the religious antagonism among people, and their stupid rules.” Strouse says he thinks the reason he wrote so many “happy songs” is because having grown up during the Depression with a mother who was constantly depressed, optimism became his way out. “Put on a happy face . . . The sun’ll come up tomorrow,” he tells us, with no thought of an afterlife.

Photo by GustavM under CC 3.0

"My sister died in ’41 of breast cancer, and I remember a rabbi saying that ‘God in his infinite wisdom has chosen to take this young girl.’ That was a point in my life that I said there couldn’t be any God."

—Charles Strouse on Freethought Radio, June 20, 2009

Compiled by Dan Barker

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