The music and lyrics are by Jerry Herman, who also wrote the scores for many musicals including Mame (1966) and La Cage aux a Folles (1983). The song was first recorded by Carol Channing on the Original Broadway Cast album of Hello, Dolly! (1964). Before the show opened, jazz great Louis Armstrong made a demo of the song Hello, Dolly! to use to help promote the new show.
After Hello, Dolly! opened in January 1964, it quickly became a big fat hit. At the same time, Armstrong’s demo was released as a commercial single. His version went to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, ending The Beatles‘ streak of three chart-topping hits in a row I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, and Please Please Me.
Hello Dolly! became the most successful single of Armstrong’s five decades long career, followed by a Number One album of the same name. The song made Armstrong the oldest artist ever to reach Number One on the Hot 100 since its introduction in 1958.
Hello, Dolly! won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1965, and Armstrong received a Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance. He also performed the song with Barbra Streisand in the film version of Hello, Dolly! (1969).
The song was covered by Ella Fitzgerald on her album Hello, Dolly! (1964). I lost track of cover versions at 100. Frank Sinatra included it on his album It Might As Well Be Swing (1964), Sinatra improvising the lyrics, in homage to Armstrong. Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli sang it in a version captured on Live At The London Palladium (1964), and Sammy Davis, Jr. recorded it for his album Sammy’s Back On Broadway (1965). Singers you would never associate with it made recordings; Marvin Gaye did a cover for his album Hello, Broadway! (1964). I wish that it had been covered by The Cramps or The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Lyndon B. Johnson, familiarly referred to as “LBJ”, used it as a campaign song for his 1964 presidential campaign, reimagined as “Hello, Lyndon!”. This version of was performed by Channing at the 1964 Democratic National Convention; a recording of “Hello, Lyndon!” was made by Ed Ames that handed out at the convention.
Hello, Dolly! was one of the last major pop hits to come from a Broadway show. The last time that I can recall a Broadway song making the pop charts was Murray Head‘s One Night In Bangkok from Chess, which went to Number Three on the Pop Charts and spent 13 weeks in the Top 40 in 1985. Streisand’s version of Memory from Cats never made the Top 40, but Barry Manilow‘s did. It went all the way to Number 39 in 1983.
The mid-1960s was a time when Broadway music and pop music went their separate ways. Even in 1964, Hello, Dolly! was a hit as a novelty song, a throwback, a pastiche of early 20th century styles. Still, it became a standard, performed by performers who needed new material that wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll; it served them well, and it continues to be a well-known, popular tune.