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Richard Rodgers

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Richard Rodgers

Biography

Richard Charles Rodgers (28 June 1902, New York – 30 December 1979, New York) was an American composer of music for more than 900 songs and for 43 Broadway musicals.

He also composed music for films and television. He is best known for his songwriting partnerships with the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. His compositions have had a significant impact on popular music down to the present day, and have an enduring broad appeal. Rodgers was the first person to win what are considered the top show business awards in television, recording, movies and Broadway: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony — now known collectively as an EGOT. He has also won a Pulitzer Prize, making him one of two people (Marvin Hamlisch is the other) to receive each award.

Born into a prosperous ethnic German Jewish family in Arverne, Queens, New York City, Rodgers was the son of Mamie (Levy) and Dr. William Abrahams Rodgers, a prominent physician who had changed the family name from Abrahams. Richard began playing the piano at age six. He attended P.S. 10, Townsend Harris Hall and DeWitt Clinton High School. Rodgers spent his early teenage summers in Camp Wigwam (Waterford, Maine) where he composed some of his first songs. Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and later collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II all attended Columbia University. At Columbia, Rodgers joined the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. In 1921, Rodgers shifted his studies to the Institute of Musical Art (now Juilliard). Rodgers was influenced by composers such as Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern, as well as by the operettas his parents took him to see on Broadway when he was a child.

In 1919, Richard met Lorenz Hart, a friend of Richard's older brother. Rodgers and Hart struggled for years in the field of musical comedy, writing a number of amateur shows. They made their professional debut with the song Any Old Place With You, featured in the 1919 Broadway musical comedy ‘’A Lonely Romeo’’. Their first professional production was the 1920 Poor Little Ritz Girl. Their next professional show, The Melody Man, did not premiere until 1924.

When he was just out of college Rodgers worked as musical director for Lew Fields. Among the stars he accompanied were Nora Bayes and Fred Allen. Rodgers was considering quitting show business altogether to sell children's underwear, when he and Hart finally broke through in 1925. They wrote the songs for a benefit show presented by the prestigious Theatre Guild, called The Garrick Gaieties, and the critics found the show fresh and delightful. Only meant to run one day, the Guild knew they had a success and allowed it to re-open later. The show's biggest hit — the song that Rodgers believed "made" Rodgers and Hart — was Manhattan. The two were now a Broadway songwriting force.

With the Depression in full swing during the first half of the 1930s, the team sought greener pastures in Hollywood. The hardworking Rodgers later regretted these relatively fallow years, but he and Hart did write a number of classic songs and film scores while out West, including Love Me Tonight (1932) (directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who would later direct Rodgers' Oklahoma! on Broadway), which introduced three standards: Lover, Mimi, and Isn't It Romantic?. Rodgers also wrote a melody for which Hart wrote three consecutive lyrics which either were cut, not recorded or not a hit. The fourth lyric resulted in one of their most famous songs, Blue Moon. Other film work includes the scores to The Phantom President (1932), starring George M Cohan, Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933), starring Al Jolson, and, in a quick return after having left Hollywood, Mississippi (1935), starring Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields.

In 1935, they returned to Broadway and wrote an almost unbroken string of hit shows that ended only with Hart's death in 1943. Among the most notable are Jumbo (1935), On Your Toes (1936, which included the ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, choreographed by George Balanchine), Babes in Arms (1937), I Married an Angel (1938), The Boys from Syracuse (1938), Pal Joey (1940), and their last original work, By Jupiter (1942). Rodgers also contributed to the book on several of these shows. Many of the songs from these shows are still sung and remembered, including The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, My Romance, Little Girl Blue, I'll Tell the Man in the Street, There's a Small Hotel, Where or When, My Funny Valentine, The Lady Is a Tramp, Falling in Love with Love, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, and Wait Till You See Her.

His partnership with Hart having problems because of the lyricist's unreliability and declining health, Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II, with whom he had previously written a number of songs (before ever working with Lorenz Hart). Their first musical, the groundbreaking hit ‘’Oklahoma!’’(1943), marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in American musical theatre history. Their work revolutionized the form. What was once a collection of songs, dances and comic turns held together by a tenuous plot became an integrated masterpiece. The team went on to create four more hits that are among the most popular of all musicals and were each made into successful films:Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949, winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959). Other shows include the minor hit Flower Drum Song (1958), as well as relative failures Allegro (1947), Me and Juliet (1953) and ‘’Pipe Dream’’ (1955). They also wrote the score to the film State Fair (1945) (which was remade in 1962 with Pat Boone), and a special TV musical of Cinderella (1957). Their collaboration produced many well-known songs, including Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin', People Will Say We're in Love, Oklahoma! (which also became the state Oklahoma's state song), If I Loved You, You'll Never Walk Alone, It Might as Well Be Spring, Some Enchanted Evening, Getting to Know You, My Favorite Things, The Sound of Music, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, Do-Re-Mi, and Edelweiss, Hammerstein's last song.

Much of Rodgers's work with both Hart and Hammerstein was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. Rodgers composed twelve themes which Bennett used in preparing the orchestra score for the 26-episode World War II television documentary Victory at Sea (1952–53). This NBC production pioneered the "compilation documentary" -- programming based on pre-existing footage — and was eventually broadcast in dozens of countries. The melody of the popular song No Other Love was later taken from the Victory at Sea theme entitled Beneath the Southern Cross. Rodgers won an Emmy for the music for the ABC documentary Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years, scored by Eddie Sauter, Hershy Kay, and Robert Emmett Dolan. He contributed the main-title theme for the 1963–64 historical anthology television series The Great Adventure.

In 1950, Rodgers and Hammerstein received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York." In 1954, Rodgers conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in excerpts from ‘’Victory at Sea, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’’ and the ‘’Carousel Waltz’’ for a special LP released by Columbia Records. Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.


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