And most recently, he had served as artistic director of Encores! Off-Center, an annual summer program at New York City Center that presents staged concert performances of Off Broadway musicals.
His death stunned the theater community, which had lost many artists to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, but fewer in recent years. “Aching with gratitude for the music & joy he gave us,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton,” wrote on Twitter. “Mourning all the music we’ll never hear.”
The lyricist Benj Pasek (“Dear Evan Hansen”) called Mr. Friedman’s death “a shocking and devastating loss,” while the composer Dave Malloy (“Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”) wrote he was “devastated and shaken to the core.”
John Michael Friedman was born on Sept. 24, 1975, in Boston, and was raised in Philadelphia. His father, John, was a marketing executive with The Philadelphia Inquirer, and his mother, Carolyn Friedman, was the executive director of the nonprofit White-Williams Scholars, which provides financial assistance to low-income students.
Michael Friedman — he went by his middle name — took to music early. As a child, only music would quiet his crying, and he began playing the piano at 4 or 5, according to his sister, Marion Friedman Young.
He was educated at the Germantown Friends School, and it was there, while in high school, that he composed his first song, about Icarus, the young man in Greek mythology who dies when he flies too close to the sun.
“He went to music camp, he played instruments, but it became clear early on that he wasn’t headed for conservatory training — he wanted to be more creative and to do more composition,” Ms. Young said. “He didn’t want to create art alone — that didn’t interest him. He loved collaborating, and the theater…