Donald Pippin, a celebrated and prolific musical director for Broadway and New York’s Radio City Music Hall and the last living recipient of the long-discontinued Tony Award for Best Conductor and Musical Director — which he won for 1963’s Oliver! — died June 9 at the age of 95.
His death was confirmed by friends on Facebook, including Broadway director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who wrote, “I met Don when I was the choreographer on The Music Man @ NY City Opera in 1988. He was our Maestro and he was a generous gentleman in the theatre, taking me under his wing with such mastery and kindness…Journey On, dear Don, in beautiful music.”
An arranger and songwriter as well as conductor and musical director, Pippin, born in Macon, Georgia, and a longtime resident of Brewster, New York, began his Broadway career by composing dance music for 1955’s Ankles Aweigh starring sisters Betty and Jane Kean. In 1960 Pippin was the assistant conductor of Irma La Douce, and in ’63 earned his first Broadway credit as musical director for Oliver!, winning the Tony for Best Conductor and Musical Director. (The category was discontinued the following year after Shepard Coleman won for Hello, Dolly!; Pippin is believed to have been the last surviving recipient of the award.)
Other Broadway musical director credits include 110 In The Shade (1963), Foxy (1964), Ben Franklin in Paris (1964), Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Applause (1970), Seesaw (1973), Mack & Mabel (1974), A Chorus Line (1975), A Broadway Musical (1978), Woman of the Year (1981), La Cage aux Folles (1983), Jerry’s Girls (1985) and The Red Shoes (1993). He provided vocal arrangements for many of those productions as well as for 1979’s The Grand Tour, the 1983 revival of Mame, the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line and the 2017 revival of Hello, Dolly! For 1991’s Catskills on Broadway, Pippin arranged the opening musical sequence.
Pippin’s longtime and frequent collaborations with composer and lyricist Jerry Herman continued in 2009 when he conducted the National Symphony Orchestra for the Kennedy Center tribute Jerry Herman’s Broadway.
In 1987, Pippin, along with Buster Davis and Eric Stern, won an Emmy Award for the music direction of Broadway Sings: The Music of Jule Styne for PBS’s Great Performances. Pippin was Emmy-nominated in 1994 for his musical direction of Jerry Herman’s Broadway at the Bowl, also for PBS’ Great Performances.
Although known best as an arranger and conductor, Pippin, according to his Kennedy Center biography, was a prolific piano accompanist for such entertainers as Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ann Hampton Callaway, Julie Andrews, Alfred Drake, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Marilyn Horne, and Debbie Voigt.
Information on survivors, as well as a cause of death, was not immediately available.
Pippin discusses his career in this 2014 video New York’s Off Broadway theater company York Theatre: