On this day in 1948, Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the most prolific and popular composers of his generation, was born. The British composer went on to write the award-winning music for hit shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera–and in the process, left an indelible impact on the modern musical.
Born in Kensington, London, on 22 March 1948, Webber couldn’t have had a more musical upbringing. His father, William Lloyd Webber, was a composer, his mother, Jean Hermione, a violinist and pianist, and his younger brother Julian was a renowned solo cellist. As a child, he put on play productions in his toy theatre with his brother and Aunt Viola, an actress. He began drawing melodies from his violin at the tender age of three, had written six pieces of music by age nine, and had penned nine musicals by the time he graduated from college.
Thereafter, he began working with lyricist Tim Rice, with whom he wrote a string of hits. Among them was a piece the pair was commissioned to write for the Colet Court preparatory school in 1968, a retelling of the biblical story of Joseph. The result was a show set to a hilarious patchwork of musical styles like rock n’ roll, Calypso, and country music, and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat was born. Jesus Christ Superstar followed in 1970. In 1976, Webber and Rice collaborated again to write Evita, the musical based on the life of Eva Peron. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” became a hit single and the show was eventually made into a motion picture starring Madonna.
Webber worked without Rice on his next project, turning instead to the poetry of T.S. Eliot. The result, Cats, would go on to become the longest running musical in London, where it ran for 21 years. It ran for 18 years on Broadway, a record broken by another Webber musical, The Phantom of the Opera. Inspired by the 1911 Gaston Leroux novel, Weber began work on The Phantom of the Opera in the 1980s, writing the part of Christine for his then-wife, Sarah Brightman.
Webber has worked on at least 18 shows in his career for which he has been awarded seven Tony Awards, four Grammys, one Golden Globe, and one Academy Award. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992.
Credit: © Presselect / Alamy
Caption: Andrew Lloyd Webber with the cast of “Starlight Express.”