Joe Raposo and the song that circled the world

You may not recognize Joe Raposo’s name—but you know his work!

Joe was the songwriter for Sesame Street.  He penned Kermit the Frog’s “It’s Not That Easy Being Green.”  It’s not easy to make a grown human tear up over a frog—but I do whenever I hear that song.

Joe, an Emmy award winner, wrote many other songs as well, including one of the world’s most popular songs: “Sing, Sing a Song.” From the Carpenters to Lily Tomlin with the Muppets, then Lena Horne, Barbra Streisand and the Dixie Chicks—everyone seems to have recorded this tune. Sammy Davis Jr. Julie Andrews. Shirley Bassey. Kristin Chenowith. Pink Martini. An Indonesian pop band. The list goes on and on and on … and there’s even a recording of Conan O’Brien and Ben Stiller singing it!

What you don’t know about that song is—how it returned to him near the end of his life.

Joe bubbles to life in the memoir of my friend, Bill Haney, so let me start with that friendship.  Bill had just played at the prestigious Siwanoy Golf Club.  (The first PGA tournament took place at this Donald Ross-designed Bronxville, NY, course in 1916.)  Bill stood at the bar among a group of golfers watching TV.  The 1987 Kentucky Derby was about to run.  No one knew how to bet. The club president, having just played with Bill, said, “Ask Haney.  He’s had Irish luck all day.”

As “luck” would have it, Bill had read the sports pages the day before. Remembering a name, he announced, “Alysheba.”  The bartender called his bookie. Alysheba To Win for everyone.  As Alysheba raced past the finish line, Bill breathed again.  Among those betting: Joe Raposo.  He was so pleased by his financial windfall that he invited his “new best friend Bill” to dinner.

Joe, a New Yorker, and Bill remained friends.  Bill, who worked for a Detroit ad agency, invited Joe to appear in a series of talks presented for agency staff by creative people. At Joe’s event, someone asked: “What comes first—the music or the lyrics?”

Joe’s response: “The contract.”

Months later, at lunch, Joe was in a less upbeat mood.  He told Bill about a recent visit to a remote inn on a Scottish island in the North Sea.  He said, “I had to deal with… some unwelcome news.”  To process that news, he escaped to a cold, wet desolate island in the Orkneys.  There he climbed the steps to his room in the garret thinking he had left behind his career and accomplishments and could concentrate on what lay ahead.

He told Bill, “There was nothing… to remind me of what’s past or of any fears I might imagine.”

And then he stopped.  And he listened.  And he laughed.

The 80-year-old old Scottish innkeeper helping to haul his bags in this isolated spot was humming a tune: Joe’s “Sing, Sing a Song.”

For the whole story, and many more, read Bill’s delightful memoir, From Big Beaver to the Big Apple. You’ll also learn how Bill developed the world’s first pizza delivery business while a student at the U-M and how that business turned into Domino’s Pizza.

Joe Raposo died of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, at 51, shortly after that lunch with Bill.

His songs will live forever.

(Whether happy or sad, please share your Godsigns stories with me.)

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4 thoughts on “Joe Raposo and the song that circled the world

  1. suzy farbman

    Thank you all for your sweet comments. Fun getting to know about this amazing songwriter and to share with you.

  2. Elaine Greenberg

    Thanks for a beautiful story about the man who wrote two of the songs I have performed so many times. I love “Sing, Sing A Song” and when I perform it, the audience sings along with me and know every one of the words. “It’s Not That Easy Being Green”—what a great message. Now i will have to Google Joe Raposo’s name and see what else he has written.
    Nice story.

  3. Bill haney

    Suze told this story with the sensitivity that characterizes her writing and the way she lives her life. So nice to see this moment in the life of the gentle creative Joe Raposo share with Suze’s readers .

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