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John Latouche grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and won a literary contest which enabled him to study in New York City at a private school and at Columbia University. He left college to write music and lyrics for nightclub acts and theater. His cantata “Ballad for Americans” was famously performed on radio by Paul Robeson and used at the 1940 Republican Presidential Nominating Convention. It led Latouche to a job as lyricist for the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky with music by Vernon Duke. “Taking a Chance on Love” was the show’s big hit.
After service in WWII Latouche returned to the theater in 1944 and wrote the lyrics for two unsuccessful operettas and a song sequence for the 1946 surrealist film, The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart. That same year he wrote the book and lyrics for the Broadway musical Beggar’s Holiday with music by Duke Ellington. The musical, based on John Gay’s satiric “The Beggar’s Opera,” caused a stir because of its racially integrated cast. Its songs included “Tomorrow Mountain,” “I Want to Be Bad,” “Brown Penny,” and “Take Love Easy.” The Golden Apple (1954), for which Latouche also wrote the book and lyrics, was based on the work of Homer and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. It also produced Latouche’s big hit, “Lazy Afternoon,” with music by Jerome Moross.
Latouche enjoyed his crowning success with the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe which opened in 1956 to rave reviews. Latouche worked with composer Douglas Moore on the book about Baby Doe Tabor who was the famous “face on the barroom floor” in Central City, Colorado. Beverly Sills came to stardom in the New York City Opera’s 1958 presentation of the work which is now in the standard repertoire, one of the few 20th-century American operas to be so honored.
Latouche died suddenly at the age of 41 at his Vermont home where he was working on Candide, a show with music by Leonard Bernstein, which was produced posthumously in 1956. He is survived by his life partner, poet Kenward Elmslie. Latouche, who had a charming and magnetic personality, became the subject of writer/lyricist Erik Haagensen’s 2000 Off-Broadway revue, Taking a Chance on Love: The Lyrics and Life of John Latouche.
- Sandra Burlingame
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Kristin Chenoweth, Patti LuPone, Paul Groves, Lonny Price, Sir Thomas Allen
Leonard Bernstein's Candide (Great Performances)
Ethel Waters, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram
Cabin in the Sky
Warner Home Video
DVD - Lyrics by LaTouche
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