Steven Cagan, Composer and Conductor Who Worked with Bette Midler, Melissa Manchester and Olivia Newton-John, Dies at 77

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 Michael Lamont
Steven Cagen

Composer, conductor, musician and songwriter Steven Cagan, whose wide-ranging career included serving as the musical director for the first national company of Dreamgirls to penning, arranging and conducting songs performed by Melissa Manchester, Better Midler and Diahann Carroll, died Feb. 1 in Los Angeles.

Cagan, who died of COPD on his 77th birthday,  was a classically trained musician who graduated from the New College at Hofstra University, where his early theater pieces were performed by his classmate, the late Madeline Kahn. He then studied composition at the University of Buffalo.

As a staff writer for commercial music company Marc Brown Music, Cagan wrote television and radio jingles for Chevrolet, Ford, State Farm Insurance and Coppertone, while composing ballet scores for Tony-winning choreographer/director Lynne Taylor-Corbett's Theatre Dance Collection.  

An early film assignment as arranger and orchestrator for composer Marvin Hamlisch on Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run led to a lifelong friendship between Cagan and the late Hamlisch. His original score for the 1979 remake of horror film The Cat and the Canary, starring Dame Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey and Carol Lynley, helped make it a cult favorite.  

He scored numerous TV series and specials, including those starring Spinal Tap, Robert Klein, Michael Keaton and Rob Reiner. Cagan also worked with such theatrical giants as Michael Bennett, Lester Wilson, Michael Peters, Bob Avian, and Joe Layton.

His original songs included “I Will Touch You,” recorded by Olivia Newton-John in 1972;  “Dinah! I’ve Got a Song,” recorded by Dinah Shore for a 1979 Sesame Street album and “Such A Morning” recorded by his sister-in-law Manchester for her 1978 album, Don’t Cry Out Loud and “Claudia” for her 2015 album, You Gotta Love the Life. Cagan’s compositions included choral work “Benediction,” which debuted with the Hollywood Master Chorale, and “Romances for Cello and Piano.”

Cagan, who appeared as guest musical director on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson multiple times, guest conducted the Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas and Honolulu Symphony Orchestras, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, the Houston Pops, and many more. His 1999 musical, Love Songs - A Musical, won the Festival of New Works competition at the University of Michigan.

Survivors include his wife Claudia, twin daughters Emily and Amanda, his twin sister, brother and several nieces and nephews. 

Donations can be made to his longtime friend Barry Manilow’s charity, The Manilow Music Project


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