American composer and conductor Stephen Bates (Baltes), began his career as a church organist at the age of 12 in his hometown of Madison, WI. He credited his experience as a church organist as helping him grasp the fine mechanics of underscoring, which he applied to his work in local dinner theaters in Madison. One such job, playing a place called the Melody Top in Milwaukee for Nancy Dussault in Peter Pan, got Bates hooked on musical theater. Bates' first major job was in Chicago, when he took over directorship of the orchestra with the first touring company of 42nd Street; he had started out with the group as a rehearsal pianist. For the rest of his career, Bates primarily worked as a director of off-Broadway productions, touring shows, and on cruises, and he only seldom worked on, or near, Broadway. He led the stage musical of Meet Me in St. Louis, a Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and, at the very end of his life, the touring show of The Lion King. Most of his work took him to Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, and markets other than the Great White Way.
As a composer, Bates got his start doing something many would find patently evil; he wrote or arranged more than 30 tunes for the Barney and Friends television show. Afterward, he worked as musical director for the Blank Theater of Los Angeles on a production of First Lady Suite, a musical about presidential first ladies by Michael John LaChiusa. At the same venue, Bates contributed more than 30 numbers to the musical Starr Struck, based on the Monica Lewinsky/President Bill Clinton scandal. Back in Chicago, Bates contributed several numbers to the score and was the first musical director of Naked Boys Singing! (1999), a show that became a smash hit and did, eventually, move to the New York stage. Naked Boys Singing! had logged more than 1,200 performances by the time Stephen Bates died at the age of 50 from AIDS-related lymphoma.