Strouse is best known for his work on Broadway theater musicals. His first musical was Bye, Bye Birdie, (1960) written with his long time collaborator, Lee Adams, and starred Dick VanDyke, Chita Rivera, and Paul Lynde. It earned him his first of three Tony Awards and produced the hit songs “Put on a Happy Face” and “A Lot of Livin’ To Do.” In 1970, Applause, staring Lauren Bacall, won him his second Tony. Strouse earned a third Tony in 1977 when he teamed up with lyricist, Martin Charnin, and librettist, Thomas Meehan, to write the score for Annie, that included the songs, “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
In 1958 Strouse wrote the pop song, “Born too late,” performed by the Poni-Tails. It went to number seven on the Billboard Charts. Other songs of his have been recorded by generations of top recording artists such as Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Barbara Streisand, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Harry Connik Jr., and even rapper Jay-Z, who won a Grammy Award in 1998 with his version of “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
Strouse’s reach also extends into film and television. His movie score for Bonnie and Clyde (1967) was nominated for a Grammy, and he’s added Emmys and a Peabody award to his collection for various musicals produced for television.
From the time Strouse was a young boy, music had been a source of happiness for him. Every week he and his mother would go to Woolworth’s to buy the latest sheet music. It would be demonstrated by a sales person on piano, but they couldn’t wait to get home with it where the whole family would stand around the piano and sing while his mother played. It was this memory that would resurface years later to become the inspiration for the opening scene and theme song for the TV show All in the Family.
His formal musical education began at the age of 10 with piano lessons from a teacher at Camp Wigwam in Maine. He didn’t have much interest in “serious” music, but when his mother hired Abraham Sokoloff to continue his lessons at home, his feelings changed. Sokoloff would teach him the chords to popular songs that he could then play by ear. Grade school came easily to Charles, and he raced through high school skipping grades along the way. He was just 15 when he enrolled at the Eastman School of Music where he received a Bachelors degree in composition. He went on to win two scholarships to Tanglewood where he studied under Aaron Copeland and David Diamond. He also spent time in Paris with the renowned composer, conductor and teacher Nadia Boulanger.
Strouse was inducted into the Song Writers Hall of Fame in 1986 and the Theater Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2011 he received the Johnny Mercer Artist of Distinction Award.