Sama’an Ashrawi, music producer and host of The Nostalgia Tapes podcast, is used to telling other people’s stories, but on Sunday he opened up about a more personal one — his grandfather’s gay love story — on Twitter.
The love story thread has been liked almost 200,000 times.
“My Grandpa Dave told me he was sure he was gay when he was moving into his dorm room freshman year of college and there was a boy ‘with the prettiest eyes,’” Ashrawi began. It wasn’t until his grandfather had passed away that he learned who that boy was — and so much more about his grandfather in his college years.
“His name was John Kander,” revealed Ashrawi. “After college, John, along with his partner Fred Ebb, would go on to compose two of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time. One was called Chicago, and the other was Cabaret. John wrote the music and Fred wrote the lyrics.”
“They also wrote the theme song for a 1977 Scorsese film called New York, New York; originally sung by Liza Minnelli; Frank Sinatra would immortalize it a few years later,” he continued.
Ashrawi then detailed how he made an incredible discovery. “I always thought that was so cool, that grandpa and this guy Kander were in love, but during the pandemic, I noticed something on a bookcase,” he said. It was a record with a handwritten label that said “Our Boy... Mummers ’51” and was signed by John Kander.
“My mom told me it was a song John had written for Grandpa. I put the record on and listened…some very moody piano solos, it sounded theatrical. I needed to know more,” he added.
Ashrawi then turned to the internet to see what he could discover, beginning with whether or not John was still alive. “To my amazement, the answer was yes! 94 years old,” wrote Ashrawi.
With that, Ashrawi set about making contact with his grandfather’s former flame. “I already knew I wouldn’t be able to find an email for John so I got in touch with a relative of his and a few days later I had an email from the man himself,” he revealed. “He told me the record we have isn’t just a song, it’s a whole entire one-act musical called ‘Our Boy’ that he wrote at the age of 22; and not only that, he wanted my grandfather to be the lead. It was a play about a boxer grappling with the existential feelings of defeat.”
Kander didn’t just open up to Ashrawi about the record, but sent him something truly incredible. “John sent me some photos of my grandfather that we’d never seen before. There was my grandpa, Dave Fisher, in his shiny boxing shorts, looking young and curious and serious all at once. How incredible,” he wrote.
The two agreed to meet up in New York, where ultimately the whole family (“minus one sister”) met with Kander in person. “Over lunch (and an Arnold Palmer) John opened up about their relationship. ‘We were honest with each other,’ John told us. ‘Not in terms of not lying, but honest about who we were and who we were becoming. [Your grandfather] was a great gift to me.’” wrote Ashrawi. “The End! (for now),” he concluded.