My father, Sherman Frank, died earlier this year on April 14 at the age of 90. He was a music director, conductor, arranger and pianist, and had been a member of Local 802 for over 40 years. I would like to offer these reminiscences in his honor.
My dad was a child prodigy. He made his first public appearance as a pianist on Philadelphia’s radio station WLIT at age 4. Later, at the age of 10, he was guest soloist with the Philadelphia Sinfonietta. A scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music earned him the tutelage of world-renowned pianist Rudolf Serkin, with whom he studied for six years. While at Curtis, he met classmate Lillian Shectman (an opera and theatre soprano later known as Lillian Shelby), whom he married in 1951. During World War II, he served from 1943 to 1946 as a combat rifleman with the Pennsylvania 28th Division, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge. Afterward, following solo appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Dimitri Mitropoulos, the National Symphony, and the Trenton Symphony Orchestra, he made his New York debut with bandleader Paul Whiteman at Carnegie Hall in an all-Gershwin concert.
Following an extensive solo career, my father conducted six shows on Broadway between the late 1950s and 1960s. At age 33, he became Broadway’s youngest conductor when he led “Jamaica,” starring Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban. Other New York productions under his baton were “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Redhead” (with Gwen Verdon), “How to Succeed in Business,” “The Conquering Hero,” and “The Cradle Will Rock” (with Jerry Orbach). For the New York World’s Fair in 1964, he orchestrated and conducted the industrial musicals for the Borden Dairy and Clairol exhibits. In addition, he was the music director and conductor for the industrial shows of Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Buick and Ford.
My dad also played piano in recitals with opera stars Roberta Peters, Jerome Hines, Frank Guarrera, Jan Peerce and Lawrence Winters. For a decade starting in 1966, he toured the world with some of the most celebrated headliners, including Carol Lawrence, Robert Goulet, Enzo Stuarti and the artist Oliver (whose big hits were “Jean, Jean” and “Good Morning Starshine”).
My father also toured as music director for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which was followed by several guest appearances with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. In 1972, he was music director at the famed Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia, and in 1973, he accompanied Lana Cantrell to Australia to open the new Sydney Opera House. From 1978 to 1983, he toured the United States and Canada as music director with the international touring company of “A Chorus Line.” In 1984, he commenced a three-year association with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller as music director of “Sugar Babies,” and following that run, served as the music director of the national tour of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (again starring Mickey Rooney). He was also music supervisor for the productions at the Claridge Casino Hotel in Atlantic City from 1990 to 1993. From 1994 to 2005, he served as music director for all the musicals at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, his native city. Overall, my dad wielded his baton in more than 130 productions.
During a music career that spanned over six decades, my father served as conductor and accompanist for Ginger Rogers, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, Florence Henderson, Dick Van Dyke, Agnes Moorehead, Josephine Baker, Theodore Bikel, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Elaine Stritch, John Raitt, Chita Rivera, John Davidson and Charles Nelson Reilly, among many others. On April 3, 2004, he was honored by the Walnut Street Theatre with the Edwin Forrest Award for outstanding contribution to theatre.
Although my dad has seen his final curtain call, I was always very proud to watch him conduct while seated in the audience. Truthfully, I believe my dad never “worked” a day in his life. Rather, music was his passion. Conducting and orchestrating music was not what he did for a living, but who he was. My dad’s greatest pleasure in life was bringing graceful and melodic music to the ears of others. He was truly “one singular sensation,” to quote “A Chorus Line.”
Besides myself, my father is survived by my mom Lillian and my brother Eric. We recommend that contributions in his memory be made to the Curtis Institute of Music. See www.curtis.edu/giving.