Joseph Guilherme “Joe” Raposo (February 8, 1937 – February 5, 1989) was a Portuguese-American composer, songwriter, pianist, television writer and lyricist, best known for his work on the children’s television series Sesame Street, for which he wrote the theme song, as well as classic songs such as “Bein’ Green” and “C is for Cookie,” who also wrote music for other television shows such as The Electric Company, Shining Time Station and the sitcoms Three’s Company and The Ropers, including their theme songs, and additionally composed extensively for the DePatie-Freleng Enterprises such as Halloween Is Grinch Night, Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?, and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. Raposo was born on February 8, 1937, in Fall River, Massachusetts, the only child of Portuguese immigrant parents Joseph Soares Raposo and Maria (a.k.a. “Aunt” Sarah) da Ascenção Vitorino Raposo. He was known as “Sonny” to his family. Joseph Sr. was an accomplished musician, classical guitarist, violinist, flutist, pianist, music teacher, and Joe’s first music teacher.
Raposo was a graduate of B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River. A 1958 graduate of Harvard College, he was well known for writing the scores for several Hasty Pudding shows there. He was also a graduate of L’Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger. Raposo worked in musical theater both before and after his work for the Children’s Television Workshop and Sesame Street; musical theater was where he first encountered future collaborator Jim Henson. Although primarily known for work in live-action and animated children’s television, Joe Raposo actually aspired to become a Broadway musical composer. In 1962, he set Eric Bentley’s English-language translation of song texts and poems in Bertolt Brecht’s play A Man’s a Man at the Loeb Drama Center (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and the Masque Theatre (New York City). Portions of the production were subsequently shown on CBS-TV, and the entire production (dialogue, songs, and all) was recorded and released on the Spoken Arts label.
According to Jonathan Schwartz, during the mid-1960s, before Sesame Street, Raposo performed side music in piano bars in Boston to make ends meet, and also served as pianist and music director for a jazz trio working at Boston’s WNAC-TV. Upon hearing Raposo’s musical skill, Schwartz claims in his autobiography he urged Raposo to give up piano bar playing in Boston and move to New York City. Raposo’s decision to take Schwartz’s suggestion and move in 1965 eventually led him to his fated meeting with Henson, to Sesame Street, and toward international fame. During his career Raposo composed themes for several sitcoms such as Ivan The Terrible, Three’s Company, The Ropers and Foot in the Door, film scores such as The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972), Savages (1972) and Maurie (1973), and documentaries, most notably Peter Rosen’s production America Is for which Raposo not only scored a patriotic, critically well-received title theme but, unusually, served as its on-screen narrator.
Raposo was the musical supervisor and arranger of the original off-Broadway run of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and he contributed additional music to that show. He was also responsible for the memorable theme music for New York City television station WABC-TV’s The 4:30 Movie; the piece, called “Moving Pictures,” was also used for the station’s other movie shows, and subsequently by ABC’s other owned-and-operated stations. Raposo is best known for the songs he wrote for Sesame Street from its beginning in 1969 through the mid-1970s, and also for a time in the 1980s. He wrote the “Sesame Street Theme” – various versions of which have opened every episode – as well as many of its most popular songs, such as “Bein’ Green,” “C is for Cookie,” “Sing,” and “ABC-DEF-GHI.” A version of “Sing” recorded by The Carpenters in 1973 reached #3 on the Billboard top singles chart. For many years, most of the music used in Sesame Street’s film segments was also written — and often sung — by Raposo.
Aside from his musical contributions, Raposo performed several uncredited stock characters on Sesame Street during the early 1970s. He usually chose to portray anonymous, silly characters in these segments, which were nearly always produced on 16 mm film. He also did voice-overs for a few animated segments. One of Raposo’s Sesame Street compositions, “The Square Song,” was used in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1971, Children’s Television Workshop created the show The Electric Company, meant to help teach reading to children who had outgrown Sesame Street. Raposo served as the musical director of the show for its first three seasons, and contributed songs throughout the show’s run, until 1977. Raposo performed joke characters for film segments on The Electric Company similar in style to what he had done on Sesame Street.
Raposo enjoyed doing animation voicework. Other forays of his into the craft included both the tenor singing role of “master pickler” Gil Gickler in DePatie-Freleng’s Dr. Seuss cartoon program Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You? and Gickler’s spoken dialogue. Raposo also performed at least three other character voices in the cartoon, including a Groogen musician whose “flugel bugle” is destroyed by Pontoffel in an attack flyover, the ancient Senior Fairy above McGillicuddy who oversees the fairy squadron’s worldwide search for the missing Pock and his piano, and an angry Groogen dairywoman spilt milk upon by a too-close fly-by of Pontoffel’s. In the 1970s, Raposo wrote original music for the animated film Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure. He later teamed with William Gibson (The Miracle Worker) to create a stage musical about Raggedy Ann. The musical was the first theatre company production from the United States to perform in the Soviet Union upon resumption of cultural relations between the two countries. It later had a brief run on Broadway in 1986.
Raposo collaborated with Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) on a musical adaptation of the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life which was first performed at the University of Michigan in 1986.
The HBO animated adaptation of Madeline, for which Raposo composed the music and songs (with writer/lyricist Judy Rothman), aired four months after Raposo’s death; the cartoon The Smoggies, for which Raposo wrote the theme song, premiered in Canada. Raposo died on February 5, 1989, at age 51 in Bronxville, New York of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, just three days before his 52nd birthday. He was survived by his four children and by his parents. His grave is located at Union Cemetery in Chatham, MA. Raposo’s songwriting tended toward wistful introspections on life and nature. Primarily celebrated for his bright, uptempo major key compositions, he also showed skill at arranging original blues and jazz pieces in minor key and often took sudden melancholy lyrical detours in the midst of otherwise cheerful songs. Unlike his children’s television scoring contemporaries, Raposo exhibited an uncommonly broad grasp of compositional styles. Raposo was classically trained as a conductor. Most overtly, however, Joe Raposo’s sonic trademark was his seemingly obsessive, and often exhaustively authentic, live replication of the tonal quality and exact playback cadence of the 20th-century self-operating player piano when composing for and performing on a grand, baby grand or upright piano.
My collection includes the following works by Joe Raposo:
Sesame Street: Theme, Sing, ABC-DEF-GHI, Somebody Come and Play, and Bein’ Green.