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September 7, 2011
Papers of Broadway Giant John Raitt to Join Collections at the Library of Congress
Lyric Baritone Starred in “Carousel,” “Pajama Game,” “Oklahoma!”
The Music Division of the Library of Congress will receive an extensive collection of Broadway and personal memorabilia from the estate of Broadway giant John Raitt, who originated the role of Billy Bigelow in the Rodgers and Hammerstein show "Carousel" and also starred in "The Pajama Game," "Oklahoma!" and other top musicals from the 1940s to the 1960s.
An audio interview with Raitt’s daughter, singer/songwriter Bonnie Raitt, can be heard at the Library of Congress website www.loc.gov/podcasts/.
"John Raitt had a unique, operatic voice that made the roles he played larger-than-life," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "He was the quintessence of the leading man – tall, handsome, strapping and vocally unforgettable. And he retained that amazing voice throughout his life."
Raitt, who died in 2005 at the age of 88, had become well-known on the West Coast for his appearances in Gilbert & Sullivan and other light-opera shows when he was invited in 1944 to try out for the cast of "Oklahoma!" in the role of Curly.
After regaling Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein with "Figaro’s Aria" from "The Barber of Seville" and several songs for the character he was auditioning to portray, the authors of the show were wowed. They placed Raitt in the Chicago company of "Oklahoma!" while they finished their next show, saving his Broadway debut for the new musical.
A year later, in 1945, he finally made his Broadway premiere as the original leading man in "Carousel." The seven-minute-long song "Solioquy" in "Carousel" was written expressly for Raitt.
Following that successful run, Raitt starred in the Broadway shows "Three Wishes for Jamie," "Carnival in Flanders" and "Magdalena." In 1954 he played Sid Sorokin, the new superintendent of the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in the smash hit "The Pajama Game," which was later made into a 1957 movie starring Raitt and Doris Day in the lead roles, with choreography by Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins.
Later in his career, Raitt starred in dozens of stage productions, including of "Annie Get Your Gun," "Destry Rides Again," "Man of La Mancha," "Kismet," "Zorba" and "Shenandoah." Between 1959 and 1984 he sang in summer-stock shows, holding his fee relatively low so the local theaters could afford to book him.
In his later years, he developed a one-man show, "An Evening With John Raitt," and made periodic appearances with his daughter Bonnie, who had become an internationally renowned blues and rock singer. Occasionally they were also joined by his sons David and Steven.
"I’m partial," says Bonnie, "but I still think my Dad was the greatest singer the musical theater ever produced. I’m thrilled that the Library of Congress, combined with the launch of JohnRaitt.com, will keep his musical legacy alive."
The John Raitt Collection includes six decades’ worth of personal scrapbooks; photographs from his private collection, annotated scripts, orchestrations and personal letters.
The John Raitt Collection is the newest addition to the Library’s unparalleled collections in the area of the American musical. These include the collections of George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, Charles Strouse, Howard Ashman, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon.
Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov. For more information about John Raitt, please visit www.JohnRaitt.com (external link).
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