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Stephen J. Lawrence, ‘Sesame Street’ Composer and ‘Free to Be… You and Me’ Musical Director, Dies at 82

stephen j lawrence
Courtesy of Chris Abbott

Stephen J. Lawrence, a musical talent whose credits included 1972’s “Free to Be… You and Me” and a prolific run on “Sesame Street,” died on Thursday at Clara Maas Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey. He was 82 years old.

His death was confirmed to Variety by his wife Cantor Cathy Lawrence.

Born on Sept. 5, 1939, Lawrence achieved a body of work as a musician that spanned over five decades. He is best known for his work as musical director and co-producer with Bruce Hart on the gold album “Free to Be… You and Me.” Lawrence composed the album’s title song, as well as the tracks “When We Grow Up” and “Sisters and Brothers.”

Lawrence also served as composer, music director, arranger and conductor on the children’s television series “Sesame Street” for over 30 years, composing over 300 songs and scores for the program, including “Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange),” which he co-wrote with David Axelrod. He received three Daytime Emmy awards for outstanding achievement in music direction and composition during his tenure on the show.

Lawrence’s creative investment in children’s entertainment and education led him to work with the Jim Henson Company, composing the score for “The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.” In 1998, he and Granville Burgess co-founded the nonprofit Quill Entertainment Company, which works to create musicals about American history for children.

Other credits from Lawrence include the score for 1979’s “Sooner or Later” and its single “You Take My Breath Away.” He also composed scores for “Bang the Drum Slowly,” “One Summer Love,” “Alice, Sweet Alice,” 1987’s “Red Riding Hood” and the animated HBO musical “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” Lawrence also served as music director at Temple Sinai in Stamford, Conn. from 2003 to 2022.

Lawrence is survived by his wife Cantor Cathy Lawrence; brother Robert; daughter Hannah Jones Anderson; son-in-law Seth Anderson; grandson Arthur; and stepsons Sam and Nick Kline. A private backyard memorial service will be held on Saturday.