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A Film by Michael Kantor



John Raitt

An actor and singer with a fine baritone voice, Raitt sang in light opera and concerts before playing the lead in a Chicago production of “Oklahoma!” (1944). In the following year he made his Broadway debut, playing Billy Bigelow, and introducing immortal songs such as “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy,” in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s magnificent “Carousel.” Three years later, he appeared on Broadway again in the short-lived and “unconventional” “Magdelana.” This was followed in 1952 by the “whimsical” “Three Wishes for Jamie,” which was “too treacly” to run for long. “Carnival in Flanders” (1953), despite a score by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen that contained “Here’s That Rainy Day,” provided less than a week’s employment, but his next job, as the factory superintendent in “The Pajama Game” (1954), lasted nearly two and a half years. Raitt’s spirited and sensitive renditions of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ “‘There Once Was a Man” and “Small Talk” (both with Janis Paige), plus “Hey There,” a duet with a Dictaphone machine, made sufficient impact in Hollywood for him to be cast opposite Doris Day in the 1957 film version, despite his being a complete newcomer to the big screen.

John Raitt

Born: January 19, 1917
Died: February 20, 2005
Key Shows
  • "A Joyful Noise"
  • "Carousel"
  • "Carnival in Flanders"
  • "Magdalena"
  • "The Pajama Game"
  • "Three Wishes for Amy"
Related Artists
    George Abbott Adler and Ross
  • Bob Fosse
  • Oscar Hammerstein II
  • Harold Prince
  • Jerome Robbins
  • Richard Rodgers
In the ’50s and ’60s Raitt appeared frequently on U.S. television, and in 1960 toured with the satirical musical “Destry Rides Again.” In the spring of 1966 he re-created his original role in a New York Music Theater revival of “Carousel” and, later in the year, dwelled for a brief spell amid the “newly created folk songs” of “A Joyful Noise.”

In the ’50s and ’60s Raitt appeared frequently on U.S. television.

Thereafter, Raitt devoted much of his time to touring, and in 1975 was back on Broadway, along with Patricia Munsell, Tammy Grimes, Larry Kert, Lillian Gish, and Cyril Ritchard, in “A Musical Jubilee,” a “potpourri” claiming to demonstrate the development of the American musical. By that time, his daughter, Bonnie Raitt, was gaining recognition as a leading blues-rock vocalist and guitarist. John Raitt himself continued to be active, and in 1992 he received an Ovation Award in Hollywood for services to the Los Angeles theater scene. A year later he was inducted into New York’s Theater Hall of Fame, and celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Oklahoma!” by singing the show’s title song on the stage of the St. James Theatre in New York (the theater in which “Oklahoma!” first opened in 1943) prior to a performance of a very different kind of musical — “The Who’s Tommy.” In 1998, Raitt appeared in a London concert, and received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Los Angeles Critics Circle.

Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2005 MUZE UK Ltd.

Photo credits: Photofest and the New York Public Library