Will Holt, 86

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. — Will Holt, 86, an American singer, songwriter, librettist and lyricist, died Saturday, May 30, 2015, in Los Angeles, Calif.

He was born in 1929, and spent his childhood between Portland and North Bridgton. He was a singer and musician from an early age, learning to play the piano at six. In 1950, after having graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, Williams College, and The Richard Dyer Bennett School of Minstrelsy, after which he toured Europe on a motorcycle, seeking out real life experiences and collecting folk songs from country to country.

He served in the U.S. Air Force and saw two and a half years service in the Korean War before a bout of tuberculosis provided him a medical discharge, allowing him to return to his focus on music.

He married Dolly Jonah Holt, a singer and actress with whom he toured and recorded, and they settled in New York City, becoming part of the emerging bohemian community in the West Village.

Known first and primarily as a folk performer during the 1950s and 1960s, and as an interpreter of the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in performances and recordings with Martha Schlamme.

Holt recorded for records labels including Coral, Elektra and Atlantic records — many of his songs were popularized by other artists of the era. Holt wrote his biggest hit in 1957, Lemon Tree, which has subsequently been recorded by artists as diverse as Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio, The Seekers, Bob Marley, Sandie Shaw, and Trini Lopez.

Holt made his Broadway debut in 1969 with "Come Summer," directed by Agnes De Mille. He enjoyed great success with “The Me Nobody Knows,” which opened the following year and won him the Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Musical Writer and a Tony nomination for Best Lyrics.

In 1974, Holt wrote the book for the musical “Over Here!” starring the Andrews Sisters, with a song score supplied by the Sherman Brothers. It was a nostalgic look at the home front during World War II. With Linda Hopkins, he conceived and wrote “Me and Bessie,” a 1975 revue about the life and career of blues singer Bessie Smith.

In 1976, he collaborated with George Abbott and Richard Adler on “Music Is,” an adaptation of the Shakespeare play “Twelfth Night.” “Platinum (musical),” a 1978 musical starring Alexis Smith as a 1940s–50s film star attempting a comeback as a rock singer. His last Broadway project was the 1979 revival of A Kurt Weill Cabaret, for which he performed, as well as translating some of the lyrics.

In 1988 he won the Los Angeles Dramalogue Critics Award for "A Walk on the Wild Side," for which he wrote book, music and lyrics.

Holt is survived by his wife, Dion Alden; his son Courtney Holt of Los Angeles, Calif.; and two grandchildren.

He will be buried in North Bridgton at the end of June, date and time to be announced.

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