Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The ten-dollar founding father without a father
It's a strange day, to say the least, when Hamilton becomes the most talked about event at the Grammy Awards. Well, that and Taylor Swift's smackdown of Kanye West with another vicious retort in their on-going feud.
It must be every historian's dream to have his biography of a famous figure made into a Broadway production. This is exactly what happened with Ron Chernow's epic account of Alexander Hamilton. There is no doubt that AH was a colorful figure. He was the illegitimate son of a British-French Huguenot woman and a Scottish laird on the Caribbean island of Nevis, who didn't look like he was going anywhere until adopted by a Nevis merchant who saw great potential in the young man. Young Alexander won an essay contest that so impressed community leaders that they raised the money to send him to North America for an education.
Hamilton always seemed to be a step ahead of his contemporaries, earning the favor of George Washington during the War for Independence, and anchoring his administration when the General became President. Our financial system is based on Hamilton's ideas, as is our manufacturing system, but the young man also had quite a life outside politics, ending in an unfortunate duel with Aaron Burr, who has been portrayed in history as Hamilton's dark shadow.
As the story goes, Lin-Manuel Miranda was just biding time in the airport reading Chernow's biography when the inspiration struck. Miranda researched whether any play had been done on Hamilton and sure enough there was a production in 1917, starring George Arliss as AH. Miranda decided to give Hamilton a hip-hop score, which he first premiered at the White House back in 2009, earning the favor of Obama. It took another 6 years to finally get his musical to the stage, where it became an instant hit and now has a Grammy to add to its many credits.
Who needs a ten-bill dollar bill, when you have a Grammy audience eating out of your hand. Hamilton is hip, and who knows may inspire a new generation. As for Swift and Kanye, it seems the only way to settle their nasty feud is with a duel.