Emmy Award-winning composer Stephen Lawrence, who co-wrote songs for Sesame Street and Free to Be... You and Me, died on December 30 at age 82.



Composer Stephen Lawrence has died. Lawrence wrote the music to hundreds of songs for "Sesame Street." He was the music director for the landmark children's album "Free To Be... You And Me." He also composed songs for the project, including the title track. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Just a few months ago, for his 82nd birthday, Stephen Lawrence made a YouTube video with some of his favorite songs for which he wrote the music. There is Free To Be... You And Me.


THE NEW SEEKERS: (Singing) There's a land that I see where the children are free. And I say it ain't far to this land from where we are. Take my hand...

BLAIR: Take the jazzy "Fuzzy And Blue" from "Sesame Street."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Grover, singing) I'm fuzzy and blue. That's me - I'm fuzzy and blue.

BLAIR: And Mama Cass Elliot's version of "One Way Ticket."


MAMA CASS ELLIOT: (Singing) Call the village band out. Bid me goodbye.

BLAIR: Melody - that's what Stephen Lawrence was always looking for, says his wife, Cathy Lawrence.

CATHY LAWRENCE: That was number one - it had to have fabulous tunes. He didn't like Beethoven because he didn't think he was much in the way of tunes.

BLAIR: Composing for "Sesame Street" was perfect for Stephen Lawrence because he got to work in all kinds of styles - country western, R&B, classical.

C LAWRENCE: He parodied Puccini in an aria about fish.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Fish - I love them (unintelligible) or fried or boiled, flambe or poached, sauteed or broiled.

BLAIR: Stephen Lawrence grew up in Great Neck, N.Y. His father worked at a glue factory. Cathy Lawrence says Stephen wasn't big on sight reading, but he could play anything by ear as early as age 5. He won three Emmys for his work on "Sesame Street," awards he shared with his fellow composers. It's also where he met the late lyricist Bruce Hart and his wife, the late sketch writer Carole Hart. When Carole started working with Marlo Thomas on a new children's record, she suggested her husband and Lawrence could work on the music.

MARLO THOMAS: He was adorable and fun, but he was very serious about the music.

BLAIR: Marlo Thomas says when she and Mel Brooks were recording a song together, Lawrence was so serious, Mel Brooks walked out of the studio. He eventually came back. When Sara Bareilles recently did a version of the title track of "Free To Be... You And Me," Marlo Thomas said she wanted to change a few chords.

THOMAS: And he was very, you know, upset about it. He had to call - I said, well, call her and negotiate it, whatever you want. You know, I'll stand beside you whatever you want to do. And so he was very particular about what he would allow and what he wouldn't allow on the chord. And, you know, I mean, I could barely tell the difference, but Stephen was like that with his own music and with others', too.

BLAIR: Talking to WNYC's is John Schaefer in 2012, Stephen Lawrence reflected on the album's success.

STEPHEN LAWRENCE: The record company said we could hope for 15,000 sales.


S LAWRENCE: And it sold over a million. I'm not sure how much. It just keeps selling.

BLAIR: Among the tributes to Stephen Lawrence, Sesame Workshop tweeted, thank you for bringing smiles, laughter and the gift of music to our neighborhood. Cathy Lawrence says her husband loved being recognized for his work and would be so happy with what people are saying now. As for Sara Bareilles' version of his song, Marlo Thomas says he loved it.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIMO ANDRES' "V") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.