Joe Raposo (February 8th, 1937 - February 5th, 1989) was a composer who wrote songs, score, background cues, & other music for SESAME STREET & other Muppet Projects. Raposo created some of the best known Muppet songs, notably "Bein' GREEN" & "C IS FOR COOKIE" & helped establish the sound of SESAME STREET. Many of his SESAME STREET songs have since become popular standards covered by everyone from the Carpenters to Barbra Streisand, including "Bein' GREEN", "Sing" & "Somebody Come & Play".
Joseph Guilherme Raposo was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, of Brazilian Portuguese heritage. His father was a music teacher & conductor, but Raposo initially majored in law at Harvard College, where he graduated in 1958. He soon began performing as a jazz piano accompanist & then studied at L'Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris instead of going on to law school. While still at Harvard, he conducted an out of town tryout for a Broadway show, with his first scored musical Sing Muse! opening in 1961. Raposo subsequently moved from Boston to New York where he provided dramatic underscoring for Bertolt Brecht's A Man's a Man, served as musical director of Truman Capote's House of Flowers (1968) & wrote incidental music for Jackie Mason’s Broadway comedy A Teaspoon Every Four Hours (1969). It was SESAME STREET that brought Raposo widespread fame, however.
Raposo first worked with JIM HENSON on the special Hey Cinderella! (1969), for which he scored & wrote all of the songs. Raposo subsequently worked on SESAME STREET, though he was chosen independently of HENSON on the recommendation of producer/Hey Cinderella! writer Jon Stone. Serving as musical director for the first 5 seasons, Raposo initially wrote material for all aspects of the show, including the instrumental theme for the live action Buddy & Jim skits, & only occasionally collaborating with staff writers such as Stone, Jerry Juhl, Daniel Wilcox & JEFF MOSS (who contributed heavily to the show's musical sound himself), among others. As Raposo recalled, SESAME STREET "just came along. It didn’t have a name. It was a bunch of people meandering around trying to do a show for Public Television." Most of his best known songs, however, soon fell into 2 groups: those written for Muppet segments & those for live action films, often sung by Raposo himself.
Of the Muppet tunes, some were jaunty, whimsical exercises in education, as with Cookie Monster’s anthem "C is for Cookie" or "Would You Like to Buy an O?" Others were slower & more contemplative, expressing the innermost thoughts, fears & desires of the characters, as with "Imagination" "Nobody", & especially Kermit’s classic timeless lament "Bein' GREEN". Such introspection resulted from Raposo's songwriting methods, a process he called "psychological dress-up": "When you write songs, music & lyrics, you’re always putting on somebody else's clothes. The degree to which you're able to dress up & counterfeit yourself as this person, that's as good as you are as a writer. & I'm pretty good at it, which leaves me tremendous doubtsabout my own personality.
Raposo's sound, often dominated by the piano over other instruments, was also a fixture of film inserts, usually played over footage of people or animals & performed by Raposo himself. As with the Muppets, Raposo’s style as composer & singer varied in moods, from the comedic & even brash (adopting cartoonish voices for "What Do You Do With a Fruit?" or as the titular animal in "I’m an Aardvark") to the melancholy ("Somebody Come & Play") or soothing mood pieces ("Everybody Sleeps"). 1 of the few occasions when he lent his voice to songs written by others was "High, Middle, Low" (as the Anything Muppet singing " middle"). 1 Raposo classic which fits in neither of the above 2 categories is "Sing" performed in many different contexts on the show, & later covered by a variety of popular artists.
In fact, through his work on SESAME STREET, Raposo deliberately set out to cross the forced boundaries between pop music & children’s songs. "Some educators have complained that the music on SESAME STREET is too sophisticated for little ears, that we should curb the spontaneity of blues & rock & instead teach the children "Mary Had a Little Lamb." But what most educators don't realize is that the lamb left the nursery the day they brought the TV set in. Children are now exposed to & learn to love every conceivable style of music...& the beauty of our music is maybe that the Child in the Grosse Pointe home is hearing gospel & blues for the first time & the black child in the urban ghetto is hearing the harpsichord & the flute for the 1st time. Someday, when they grow up, they'll have 1 more thing in common.
Raposo continued to work with HENSON on The Great Santa Claus Switch & The Frog Prince (both with lyrics by Juhl) & went on to serve as musical director & song writer for CTW's follow-up to SESAME STREET, The Electric Company. Raposo left SESAME STREET after 1974 (replaced by Sam Pottle as musical director) contributing only occasional material (such as new songs for SESAME STREET Fever) & would not return full-time until Season 15 in 1983, working more often with other lyricists. During that interim, Raposo continued to collaborate with HENSON, scoring the pilot The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence (originating the "At the Dance" theme used on The Muppet Show) & both songs & score for The Great Muppet Caper, which garnered him an Academy Award nomination for "The First Time It Happens". He also worked on The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show & composed & produced all songs for Miss Piggy’s Aerobique Exercise Workout Album.
Fame & Later Work
In 1970, "Bein' GREEN" was covered by Frank Sinatra, & as Raposo put it, "then I became famous." SESAME STREET took a backseat for a time to a wide range of projects in film, TV, & theater, as well as writing original songs for Sinatra & other singers. While still staff musical director for CTW, Raposo worked on You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (1971) as musical arranger, supervisor, & composer of incidental music. Following his departure from SESAME STREET in 1974, producer Richard Horner tapped Raposo to write all songs & score for the animated film Raggedy Ann & Andy (finally released in 1977). 1 song from the film, "Blue", was later used on The Muppet Show (performed by Helen Reddy, who also covered the song on albums). "Blue" & "Rag Dolly" were later recycled by Raposo for the 1986 Broadway show Raggedy Ann & Andy (with a substantially different plot & several new Raposotunes).
On a more adult level, Raposo scored Robert Altman’s Academy Award-winning drama Nashville (1975, with Lily Tomlin & Cloris Leachman) & composed music (sans lyrics) for the Three’s Company theme song as well as the instrumental theme for its spin-off The Ropers, among other projects. He returned to children’s projects in the 1980s, collaborating with Theodor Geisel on 3 Dr. Seuss animated specials, composing music for a special based on the Madeline books (which aired on HBO 4 months after his death), & writing the theme for Shining Time Station.
In the theater world, Raposo collaborated with Sheldon Harnick (lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof) on the cantata Sutter’s Gold (1980) & It’s a Wonderful Life (1986), a musical adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life which was performed largely in colleges & made its Broadway debut as an Actor’s Fund benefit in 2005.
Raposo died from lymphoma on February 5, 1989, 3 days before his 52nd birthday. He was survived by his wife Pat Collins & 3 sons. The special Sing! SESAME STREET Remembers Joe Raposo & His Music, hosted & directed by Jon Stone, aired in memoriam. Nearly 3 years later, a tribute CD was released commemorating his work on SESAME STREET. In 2004, a short children’s book about Raposo, A Boy & His Music, was written by Odete Amarelo & Gilda Arruda with illustrations by Josette Fernandes. Raposo’s songs continue to be heard on SESAME STREET, & his name appeared in the credits for original songs up to Season 40.
- Hey Cinderella! (music & lyrics)
- The Great Santa Claus Switch (composer & conductor, no lyrics)
- The Ed Sullivan Show ("The Glutton" score)
- The FROG Prince (composer & conductor, no lyrics)
- Out to Lunch (music & lyrics)
- The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence (score & songs, including "At the Dance" theme)
- The Great Muppet Caper (score & songs)
- The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show (arranger, conductor, all original songs & cues)
- Miss Piggy’s Aerobique Exercise Workout Album (music, lyrics, & album producer)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Canemaker, John. The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy. Bobbs-Merill, 1977. p. 81-87
- ↑ Flint, Peter B. "Joseph G. Raposo Is Dead at 51; Helped to Create SESAME STREET." The New York Times. February 6, 1989
- ↑ Lesser, Gerald. Children & Television: Lessons from SESAME STREET
- ↑ "Beatles & Beethoven, Move on Over: The Seventies Sound is SESAME STREET." Children’s Television Workshop Newsletter. January 20, 1971. CTW Archives.
- ↑ The Herald News "SESAME STREET’ composer Raposo the subject of new children’s book" Kathleen Durand, 09/18/2004
- Joe Raposo.org
- Joe Raposo on IMDb
- Lortel Off-Broadway credits
- "JIM HENSON’s Red Book" entries: 3/29/1982, 12/9-11/1988
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