Winner of a Tony, Grammy, and three Emmy awards, Martin Charnin is best known for writing the lyrics to the Broadway hit, Annie, which ran for 2,327 performances. Charnin, who directed the original production, also wrote lyrics for and directed six other Broadway shows.
Charnin grew up in New York and came to Cooper to study art, earning his undergraduate degree in 1955. After graduation he began to act in musicals, playing a member of the Jets in the 1957 stage production of West Side Story for more than 1,000 performances. But Charnin, whose father had been an opera singer, soon realized that he had considerable talent as an arranger and producer and developed nightclub acts for a stellar roster of performers including Dionne Warwick, Diahann Carroll, Nancy Wilson, and José Ferrer. That experience put him in good stead for producing television specials for many noted singers and musicians. Coincidentally, one of his first television specials was a vehicle for Anne Bancroft entitled Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man.
By the early 1970s, he was writing lyrics for myriad Broadway shows, collaborating with legendary composers such as Richard Rogers and Vernon Duke, before conceiving of a musical rendition of the famous comic strip Little Orphan Annie. Charnin’s lyrics charmingly convey the hard luck and optimistic outlook of the Depression-era orphan. The show, which he also directed, was an extraordinary success, winning Tony awards for Best Musical and Best Musical Score in 1977. Movie versions of Annie were made in 1982 and 2014.
Charnin continued to work in musical theater until his death in 2019. Late in his career, he had a surprise award win: he received a Grammy for Jay-Z’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” which sampled lyrics from Annie.