Galt MacDermot (born December 18, 1928) is a Canadian composer, pianist and writer of musical theatre. He won a Grammy Award for the song "African Waltz" in 1960. His most successful musicals have been Hair (1967; its cast album also won a Grammy) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971). MacDermot has also written music for film soundtracks, jazz and funk albums, and classical music, and his music has been sampled in hit hip-hop songs and albums.
MacDermot was born in Montreal, Quebec, the son of a Canadian diplomat. He was educated at Upper Canada College and Bishop's University (Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada). He received a Bachelor of Music from Cape Town University, South Africa and made a study of African music his specialty. He also studied the piano privately with Neil Chotem.
MacDermot won his first Grammy Award for the Cannonball Adderley recording of his song "African Waltz" (the title track of the album of the same name) in 1960. He moved to New York City in 1964 where, three years later, he wrote the music for the hit musical Hair, which he later adapted for the 1979 film. Its Broadway cast album won a Grammy Award in 1969. His next musicals were Isabel's a Jezebel (1970) and Who the Murderer Was (1970), which featured British progressive rock band Curved Air. MacDermot had another hit with the musical Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971), which won the Tony Award for Best Musical. For that show, MacDermot was nominated for a Tony for best music and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music. His later musicals, however, including Dude and Via Galactica (both 1973) and The Human Comedy (1984), have not been successful on Broadway.
MacDermot's film soundtracks include Cotton Comes to Harlem, a 1970 blaxploitation film starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques and Redd Foxx, based on Chester Himes' novel of the same name; Rhinoceros (1974) starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and directed by original Broadway Hair director Tom O'Horgan; and Mistress (1992). His composition "Coffee Cold" was heard in the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair. He writes his own orchestrations and arrangements for his theatre and film scores.
MacDermot's music is popular with collectors of jazz and funk. Working with jazz musicians such as Bernard Purdie, Jimmy Lewis and Idris Muhammad, MacDermot created pieces that prefigured the funk material of James Brown. In recent decades, his work has become popular with hip-hop musicians including Busta Rhymes, who sampled "Space" from MacDermot's 1969 record Woman Is Sweeter for chart-topper "Woo hah!!", and Run DMC, who sampled the Hair song "Where Do I Go?" for their Grammy Award-winning "Down with the King". Handsome Boy Modelling School, DJ Vadim, DJ Premier and Oh No have all sampled the same segment from "Coffee Cold", from Shapes of Rhythm (1966). As part of his Special Herbs series, rapper MF Doom sampled three MacDermot songs from Woman Is Sweeter: "Cathedral" for his song "Pennyroyal", "Space" for "Cinqfoil", and "Princess Gika" for "Hyssop". In 2006, rapper Oh No released an album produced completely with MacDermot samples, entitled Exodus into Unheard Rhythms.
In 1979, MacDermot formed the New Pulse Band, which performs and records his original music. The band plays as part of the on stage band in the current Broadway revival of Hair. MacDermot's work also includes ballet scores, chamber music, the Anglican liturgy, orchestral music, poetry, incidental music for plays, band repertory and opera. MacDermot was inducted into the 2009 Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
Film director Jeff Lunger is in the post-production phase of a documentary on the life and work of Galt MacDermot.