Howard Ashman
Howard Ashman

Howard Ashman

About Howard Ashman

Lyricist, playwright, and theater director Howard Ashman was most celebrated as part of the powerhouse songwriting team of Ashman and Menken with famed composer Alan Menken. The authors of such musicals as Broadway's Little Shop of Horrors (1982) and Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991), Ashman's Oscar- and Grammy-winning legacy was cut short by his death in 1991 at the age of 40.

Born in Baltimore on May 17, 1950, Howard Elliott Ashman studied at Boston University before earning his master's degree from Indiana University in 1974. He then relocated to New York City, accepting a publishing job while moonlighting as a playwright. Dreamstuff, his musical adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, was soon produced at the WPA Theatre, where Ashman served as artistic director from 1976 to 1982. For the 1979 musical adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, he teamed with composer Alan Menken for the first time, and they joined forces again for 1982's Little Shop of Horrors. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman B-movie cult classic, the musical update proved an unprecedented success; the highest-grossing production in off-Broadway history at the time, it won the New York Drama Critics Award and the Drama Desk Award. The 1986 film version also earned Ashman and Menken an Academy Award nomination for the added song "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space." In 1986, another musical adaption sourced from Hollywood, the beauty pageant-themed Smile, opened on Broadway. It featured Marvin Hamlisch's music and Ashman's lyrics. Ashman also directed the production and received a Tony nomination for his book of the musical.

In 1988, the Disney animated film Oliver & Company featured a song, "Once Upon a Time in New York City," that was co-written by Ashman with Barry Mann and performed by Huey Lewis. That led to Ashman working on Disney's first animated fairy tale since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. With 1989's The Little Mermaid, Ashman and Menken collected an Academy Award for "Under the Sea," which beat out their own "Kiss the Girl." The pair notched two Grammys, as well: Best Recording for Children for the soundtrack, and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television for "Under the Sea." Two years later, they won another Oscar with their title song for Beauty and the Beast. Their "Be Our Guest" and "Belle" were also nominated for Best Original Song. They also took home another two Grammys, for writing the song "Beauty and the Beast" and for the soundtrack album. Ashman and Menken had finished three songs for the 1992 Disney feature Aladdin when, having been diagnosed in 1988, Ashman died from AIDS on March 14, 1991. One of those songs, "Friend Like Me," earned Ashman and Menken a seventh Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.

Ashman won further recognition in the decades to follow, as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin all enjoyed successful Broadway adaptations. Posthumous Tony Award nominations in the category of Best Original Score followed in 1994 (Beauty and the Beast), 2008 (The Little Mermaid), and 2014 (Aladdin). The documentary film Howard, about Ashman, had its film festival premiere in 2018 and became available for streaming in 2020. ~ Marcy Donelson & Jason Ankeny, Rovi

  • HOMETOWN
    Baltimore, MD
  • BORN
    May 17, 1950

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