“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” premiered in 1968, receiving a best musical nomination at the 1969 Tony Awards and winning best musical at the Grammys that year. The musical defined the generation of free love, with songs like “Let The Sunshine In” and “Age of Aquarius” that found success outside the walls of the Biltmore Theater on 47th street. It also opened the door for rock music to find a home on Broadway, and was followed by countless classic musicals, like “Rent,” “Hamilton,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and more, all of which took their musical cues from “Hair.”
Rado collaborated on the show’s story and lyrics with Gerome Ragni, with music by Galt MacDermot. Beyond being the first rock musical on Broadway, it was also notable for its boundary-pushing content: it was the first show to feature full nudity and the first to include a sex scene between two people of the same sex. Rado also starred in the show as Claude, a young man who is drafted to serve in Vietnam and is conflicted by the decision.
His songs, like “I Got Life” and “Manchester England,” became anthems for a generation of young people fighting back against the United States military operation overseas. Other songs made it into the top charts. “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” reached the No. 1 spot, while the cast album stayed in the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart for 13 weeks. The musical has been revived a few times, winning best revival at the Tony Awards in 2009, while the songs have been performed on TV and in film, adapted for new generations every so often.
Rado was born on Jan. 23, 1932 in Los Angeles, Calif. and was later raised in Rochester, N.Y. and Washington, D.C. He served for two years in the U.S. Navy before moving to New York City to study acting with Lee Strasberg. He met Ragni in 1964 while they were performing in the off-Broadway play “Hang Down Your Head and Die.” That same year, they began writing “Hair,” which took three years to be seen by an audience. The show’s main characters were loosely based on their relationship, and while Rado did not play Claude off-Broadway, he did on Broadway alongside Ragni as George.
The musical premiered to some critical acclaim, but also a significant amount of pushback due to its use of swear words, nudity, drugs and anti-military sentiment. The Public Theater initially cut the nudity off-Broadway, but it was re-inserted on Broadway.
After “Hair,” Rado collaborated with his brother Ted Rado on the musical “Rainbow,” and later teamed up again with Ragni on the musical “Sun” before Ragni died in 1991. In 2009, Rado and his two “Hair” collaborators — MacDermot and Ragni — were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
According to AP, Rado is survived by his brother Ted; his sister-in-law Kay Rado; his nieces Melanie Khoury, Emily DiBona and Melissa Stuart; great-nieces and a great-nephew.
Pictured, left to right: Galt MacDermot and James Rado with “Hair” cast in 2009.