Tom Lehrer Biography

Thomas Andrew Lehrer, 9 April 1928, New York City, New York, USA. Lehrer was a song satirist who also recorded a number of albums during the 50s and 60s. Having graduated from Harvard University, Lehrer then taught mathematics there. Having trained on piano, he began to perform song satires of his own for colleagues at the college. They enjoyed his songs, so Lehrer recorded a dozen of them in 1953 and had 400 copies pressed on a 10-inch album, on his own Lehrer label. An instant success on campus, Lehrer was forced to press more copies to meet the demand. He then began entertaining in clubs and writing songs for television programmes. Before the end of the 50s he had recorded three more albums on his own label and had begun to tour extensively, even gaining a following in Europe. His sense of black humour is encapsulated in the titles ‘Poisoning Pigeons In The Park’, ‘The Old Dope Peddler’ and ‘The Masochism Tango’ - which could be described as falling somewhere between Mad magazine and Lenny Bruce. He stopped making live appearances in 1960 but continued to record, signing with Reprise Records in 1965. He also wrote for the US editions of the television programme That Was The Week That Was in 1964-65, lampooning current news events. His album That Was The Year That Was collected songs that had featured on the programme. He largely stopped writing in the late 60s and returned to teaching, but contributed songs to the television show The Electric Company in 1972. In 1980, Robin Ray and Cameron Mackintosh adapted some of his songs for the revue, Tomfoolery, which was still visiting the London Fringe in the early 90s. In 1998, BBC Radio 2 celebrated his 70th birthday with a special programme entitled An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer. In recent times, Lehrer continues teaching maths and has not performed for many years. Why should he, as he stated to Billboard; ‘I’m not a performer, I just sit at the piano’. His recorded legacy continues to stay in print, and is destined to survive to a continuing refreshed audience who will want to seek out one of the finest satirists ever, and certainly an artist who had the 50s and 60s very well observed.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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