Have you heard about the musical Hamilton? Maybe you’ve seen the movie on Disney Plus, listened to the music, or actually seen a live performance. My kids and I enjoy listening to the music. It’s catchy and fun to sing along to, and what’s also great is that we learn something new while having a good time together! The musical Hamilton has been seen on Disney Plus and Broadway millions of times and has come to be one of the most popular musicals of all time. But how did the musical come to be? Do you know who wrote the story and lyrics and music? If you guessed Lin-Manuel Miranda you were right!
Lin-Manuel Miranda was born on January 16, 1980, in New York, New York. His parents were Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico is an island and U.S. territory in the Caribbean. Lin-Manuel grew up in a Hispanic neighborhood in northern Manhattan with his family. His unique name was inspired by a poem about the Vietnam War. His father worked in politics and helped several of the mayors of New York City, and his mother was a psychologist. They often played salsa and show tunes, which are songs from musicals, at home.
Childhood and Teen Years
During childhood and his teens, Lin-Manuel spent at least one month each year with his grandparents in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. Lin-Manuel attended Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School. He wrote some of his first musicals while growing up in school.
Lin-Manuel saw his first Broadway musical, Les Misérables when he was seven, and it made a lifelong impression on him. His tastes also ran to hip-hop and R&B, and he became an excellent rapper. In high school, he won the lead role in the musical The Pirates of Penzance and was very active in the school’s drama program.
In school, he met Stephen Sondheim, who later became a mentor to him, along with fellow musical-theatre legend John Kander. Lin-Manuel went on to study theatre at Wesleyan University, where he continued to perform in musicals and write his own songs and shows.
In the Heights
It was there in 1999 that he wrote the first draft of his musical In the Heights, which was set in Washington Heights, a northern Manhattan neighborhood similar to that of his own childhood. At college Lin-Manuel wrote and directed several other musicals and acted in many other productions, ranging from musicals to Shakespeare.
After graduating from college in 2002, Lin-Manuel started an acting career, appearing in films and on television. He also performed with a hip-hop improvisation group, Freestyle Love Supreme around New York City, and at festivals, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
At this time Lin-Manuel continued to develop In the Heights with his friend Thomas Kail. The musical blended hip-hop and salsa. Lin-Manuel wrote the music and lyrics for the show. He also co-wrote a book with Quiara Alegría Hudes that is the complete script and all the song lyrics from the show.
In the Heights opened Off-Broadway in February 2007 and ran until July, with Lin-Manuel in the lead role. It won two Drama Desk Awards. In the Heights had its Broadway debut in March 2008 and won four Tony Awards, including those for best musical and best original score. They also nominated the show for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and its original-cast recording won the 2008 Grammy Award for best musical show album.
Also, In the Heights will be available to everyone as a movie in theaters and on HBO in June 2021.
While Lin-Manuel was on vacation in 2008, he read a book about the U.S. Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The biography was written by Ron Chernow and told Hamilton’s life story. Lin-Manuel was inspired by Hamilton’s life, from his difficult childhood on the Caribbean island to his move to New York and the part he played in the American Revolution, eventually becoming the U.S. secretary of the treasury. Lin-Manuel saw an important story that needed to be told and the wheels in his head started to turn.
In Alexander Hamilton’s story, Lin-Manuel saw one that was very similar to that of the simple beginnings of many famous rappers. It inspired him to write a rap about Alexander Hamilton. In 2009 he later performed it for the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word before President Barack Obama and others.
“Hamilton”, the musical
Lin-Manuel later said he spent a year writing the Hamilton song “My Shot”, changing it countless times for every verse to reflect Alexander Hamilton’s smarts. By 2012, Lin-Manuel was performing an extended set of pieces based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which he then referred to as the Hamilton Mixtape. The New York Times called it “an obvious game-changer”.
The resulting show, which Lin-Manuel called “Hamilton” was smart, energetic, catchy, and immediately popular with audiences, and featured a racially diverse cast, with Lin-Manuel starring in the main role of Alexander Hamilton. In January 2015 the musical opened Off-Broadway at New York City’s Public Theater. It was so successful that it made an early move to Broadway in July.
In 2016 they awarded Hamilton the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and that year it received an outstanding 16 Tony nominations, which rarely happens. Lin-Manuel earned several nods, including best actor in a leading role in a musical. The production eventually won 11 Tonys, falling one short of the record. They named Hamilton the best musical, and Lin-Manuel won for best book and best original score.
On March 15, 2016, members of the cast of Hamilton performed at the White House and hosted workshops; Lin-Manuel performed freestyle rap from prompts held up by President Obama. Later In 2016, Miranda and Jeremy McCarter published “Hamilton: The Revolution”, a book describing Hamilton’s journey from idea to Broadway success. In July 2016 Lin-Manuel appeared for the last time in the show.
The following year the musical opened in London’s West End, where it was a critical and commercial success. It won seven Olivier Awards, including best new play. In addition, Lin-Manuel garnered an award for outstanding achievement in music.
In 2017 Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean Islands. It was the worst recorded hurricane in history in that area of the world. Many lives and property were lost. To help, Lin-Manuel briefly returned to his role as Alexander Hamilton in Puerto Rico and used the money made from the shows to help the people there. Lin-Manuel had been active in helping the people of Puerto Rico and the arts there over the years.
Have you seen the Disney movie Moana? Lin-Manuel wrote the song “How Far I’ll Go” and sings parts of it. In the movie Mary Poppins Returns, he played Mary Poppins’s sidekick and chimney sweep, Bert. He also starred in the HBO TV series His Dark Materials. Today Lin-Manuel continues today to work on many projects with different studios, including Disney.
Lin-Manuel is an outstanding example of someone who found a talent he enjoyed and dedicated his life to improving it. Can you believe he spent a year working on the songs “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot”? Great things don’t come easy. Often they start off very imperfect and need to be worked on over and over until they improve with time and focus. He also wasn’t afraid to take risks by being original. Many of his close friends told him his idea for Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t work. A rap musical about a founding father was a very unique and bold idea! But he kept working at it anyway until it was a great success!
Once Lin-Manuel reached fame and stardom, he didn’t only use the money he made for his own benefit. He has found many ways to give back to the communities he grew up in and places like Puerto Rico when it was hit by a devastating hurricane. He has also worked with charities that help children who are in foster care and are being adopted.
What is something that you love to do? Think of what your next project might be related to your interests and set a goal. Plan out how you might work on that project each day until it becomes something better each time, so then you can share it like Lin-Manuel.
Buy one of these great books about Lin-Manuel Miranda!
Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda perform at the White House Poetry Jam:
Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda perform “My Shot” on stage:
Watch the cast of Hamilton perform at White House: