October 3, 2016


Future Hispanic History Month: Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton' Home Run

We're celebrating this year's National Hispanic Heritage Month with Future Hispanic History Month, highlighting rising stars who are creating history before our very eyes. Today we honor Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mind and voice behind Hamilton and In the Heights, the Broadway musicals that have earned him a MacArthur Genius Grant, a Pulitzer Prize, two Grammys, an Emmy and three Tonys. (His shows together have been nominated for 29 Tonys and collected 15.)

Miranda, 36, was born in Manhattan's Washington Heights to Puerto Rican parents, a psychologist mother and political adviser father who spent time on New York City mayor Ed Koch's staff. Studying at Wesleyan University, he created In the Heights, which became an innovative, salsa- and hip-hop–infused Broadway smash in 2008. It ran for three years, with Miranda pioneering the lead role.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Fast forward to 2015, when Hamilton—the earth-shifting musical with music, book and lyrics by Miranda, and starring him, as well—begins, "How does a bastard / Orphan / Son of a whore and a Scotsman / Dropped in the middle of a forgotten / Spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor / Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?" Miranda was inspired to adapt—and take perfect representational liberties with—Ron Chernow's 832-page Alexander Hamilton biography because of that hyper-relatable American immigrant story. "When I realized he came from the Caribbean," Miranda told his father on NBC, "I said, 'I know this guy—he's you, he's the taxistas that became congresspeople, he's a version of the story we know."

Hamilton, comprised nearly entirely of actors of color portraying America's Founding Fathers and their lovers, compatriots and political rivals, takes us from 1776 up to its leading man's death by duel in 1804. It is now sold out through the end of time for a very long time, draws gigantic crowds to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on a daily basis, and is available as an entire front-to-back audio experience on Spotify the like. In May, Fast Company magazine wrote that Miranda, as the show's sole creator, reportedly earns $105,000 a week—or $5.5 million a year—from box office receipts alone. He performed his last show as A.Ham on July 9, moving on to act in Disney's Mary Poppins sequel; he also wrote and sang music for the studio's upcoming animated movie Moana.

Miranda has spoken about the dire debt crisis facing Puerto Rico, most notably in a New York Times editorial and on HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, entreating American legislators, via rap, to "help Puerto Rico, it's just a hundred miles across." Several weeks after a gunman took the lives of 49 and injured 53 more at Orlando, Florida LGBTQ club Pulse during Latin Night, Miranda and fellow first-generation Puerto Rican New Yorker Jennifer Lopez teamed for a benefit single. All the proceeds from "Love Make the World Go Round" went toward Hispanic Federation's Proyecto Somos Orlando, which works to create and foster "long-term needs for mental health services that are culturally competent and bilingual."

Miranda's kind of a regular in the White House at this point, too, having debuted the show-opening tune "Alexander Hamilton" at a White House performance in 2009 and returned in 2016 with the cast of his inescapable Broadway sensation. Michelle Obama would go on to call Hamilton "the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life."

Listen to the Back of the Class podcast's first brush with Hamilton at the 6:40 mark in the episode below: