Carol Hall, 'Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' Composer and Lyricist, Dies at 82

Carol Hall-Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Polk & Co

She also was a major contributor to Marlo Thomas' landmark TV special and album for kids, 'Free to Be … You and Me.'

Carol Hall, the singer, songwriter and recording artist best known for writing the music and lyrics for the long-running Broadway hit The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, has died. She was 82.

Hall died Thursday at her home in New York City surrounded by her husband and children, publicist Jessica Johnson announced. She had been wrestling with logopenic Primary Progressive Aphasia, a rare form of dementia, for three years.

Hall was a major contributor to Marlo Thomas' Peabody and Emmy-winning 1974 ABC special and gold album Free to Be … You and Me, which saluted individuality and tolerance. She wrote the popular classics "It's All Right to Cry," "Parents Are People" and "Glad to Have a Friend Like You."

Hall also served as contributing editor and songwriter to its sequel, Free to Be … A Family, and assisted with Thomas' illustrated book and CD, Thanks & Giving/All Year Long ("A Smile Connects Us"; music by Robert Burke).

The first mass-market effort to help parents deal with gender discrimination — boys can have dolls, girls can be firefighters — Free to Be … You and Me featured stars like Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Carol Channing and Rosey Grier performing songs and sketches.

Hall later became a contributor to Sesame Street, writing the song "True Blue Miracle" for the 1978 program Christmas Eve on Sesame Street as well as "Big Bird's Birthday Bash." 

One of the few women to write both music and lyrics for Broadway, Hall — a native of Abilene, Texas — received two Drama Desk Awards in 1978 for her score and lyrics to Best Little Whorehouse

The theater classic ran for nearly five years on Broadway, received a Grammy nomination for its cast album and became a 1982 Universal movie that starred Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. Parton's recording of Hall's "Hard Candy Christmas" earned an ASCAP Award as one of the most performed country songs of '82.

A 2001 national tour of the show starring Ann-Margret played across the country for a year and a half; on the cast album of that production, Hall recorded and performed a bonus track, "A Friend to Me," written for the actress. 

A Broadway revival of Best Little Whorehouse is in the works.

Her other stage work included Good SportsPaper MoonAre We There Yet? and the off-Broadway musical To Whom It May Concern. She wrote songs for A … My Name Is Alice and A … My Name Is Still Alice and the musical Hats!, based on the Red Hats Society. 

In 2007, Hall did the score for the family musical Max and Ruby produced by TheatreWorks/USA and based on the popular TV series and children's books. It opened off-Broadway, and four tours of Max and Ruby have played across the country. 

Hall, who recorded two albums for Elektra Records in the early 1970s, wrote tunes that were performed by Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Cyndi Lauper, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Lisa Loeb, Mabel Mercer, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Chita Rivera, Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein, Olivia Newton-John, Amanda McBroom, Maureen McGovern, Margaret Whiting, Miriam Makeba, RuPaul, Frederica von Stade, Big Bird and Kermit the Frog, among others.

She was a recipient of the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award, given for contributions to the American Popular Songbook. In 2017, the League of Professional Theatre Women honored her with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Carol Hall was born on April 3, 1936, in Abilene. Her mother, Josephine, was a classical musician (piano and violin) and taught music. Her father, Elbert, ran a music store in town and later became the mayor of Abilene.

After her parents divorced, Hall and her mother moved to Dallas in 1939, and she attended Highland Park High School and then Sweet Briar College outside Lynchburg, Virginia, for two years. While in college, she began writing songs and musicals.

She transferred to and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, then was invited to join the new BMI Workshop under the tutelage of renowned Broadway musical director Lehman Engel.

Hall wrote jingles for ad agencies and performed in clubs such as The Bitter End and Max's Kansas City in New York, The Cellar Door in Washington and The Troubadour in West Los Angeles, opening for Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings.

She toured with "American Pie" singer-songwriter Don McLean, was signed by Elektra and had the albums If I Be Your Lady and Beads and Feathers released in 1971 and '72.

Hall went on to collaborate and contribute music or lyrics to songs performed by Lesley Gore, Larry Grossman, Steven Lutvak, Phyllis Newman, Michele Brourman, Shelly Markham, Tex Arnold and many others.

In 1977, she wrote lyrics to jazz legend Bill Evans' music — "Very Early" and "The Two Lonely People" — recorded on the duet album Together Again: Tony Bennett and Bill Evans.

A CD of her most recent songs, Hallways: The Songs of Carol Hall, was released in 2007.

Survivors include her husband, Leonard; children Susannah Blinkoff (aka singer-songwriter Susannah B) and Daniel Blinkoff, an actor; grandson Wally; and sister Jane.