Richard Rodgers Biography
Richard Charles Rodgers (June 28, 1902 – December 30, 1979) was one of the great composers of musical theater, best known for his song writing partnerships with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. He wrote more than 900 published songs, and forty Broadway musicals. Many of his compositions continue to have a broad appeal and have had a significant impact on the development of popular music.
Born in New York City to a prosperous Jewish family, Rodgers attended the same public school as Bennett Cerf. Later, in 1919 Phillip Leavitt, a friend of Rodger's older brother, introduced him to lyricist Lorenz Hart.
Rodgers and Hart struggled for years in the field of musical comedy, and finally broke through in 1925. Rodgers was considering quitting show biz to sell children’s underwear when he and Hart had a chance to write songs for a benefit show presented by the prestigious Theatre Guild. The The Garrick Gaieties (1925) featured many relative newcomers, and the critics found the show fresh and delightful. Only meant to run one day, the Guild knew they had a hit 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.
Throughout the rest of the decade, the duo wrote several hit shows, including Dearest Enemy (1925), The Girl Friend (1926), Peggy-Ann (1926) and A Connecticut Yankee (1927). Their 1920s shows produced standards such as "Here In My Arms," "Mountain Greenery," "The Blue Room," "My Heart Stood Still" and "You Took Advantage Of Me."
With the Depression in full swing, the team sought greener pastures in Hollywood during much of the first half of the 1930s. The hardworking Rodgers later regretted these relatively fallow years, but he and Hart did create some classics while out west. In particular, they wrote the score for Love Me Tonight (1932) (directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who would direct Rodgers' Oklahoma! on Broadway) which included such hits as "Lover," "Mimi" and "Isn't It Romantic?." Also, after trying several different lyrics that didn't quite work, they put out a song that became one of their most famous, Blue Moon."
In 1935 they returned to Broadway with a vengeance, writing an almost unbroken string of hit shows that only stopped when Hart, a troubled alcoholic, died in 1943. Among the most notable are Jumbo (1935), On Your Toes (1936), Babes In Arms (1937), 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 being sung today, including "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World," "My Romance," "Little Girl Blue," "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."
Anticipating the end of a partnership, Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II. Their first musical, Oklahoma! (1943), was groundbreaking, and marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in 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 work of art.
The team went on to create four more hits that are among the most popular of all musicals, Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), 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 movie State Fair (1945) and a special TV production of Cinderella (1957).
Their collaboration produced many well-known songs, including "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're In Love," "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" and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards.
Rodgers worked without a lyricist to provide music for the World War II television documentary "Victory at Sea" (1952-53). This NBC production (26 half-hour episodes) pioneered the "compilation documentary"--programming based on pre-existing footage--and would be eventually syndicated for broadcast in dozens of countries worldwide.
After Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers' wrote both words and music for his first new Broadway project No Strings (1962). The show was a minor hit and featured perhaps his last great song, "The Sweetest Sounds." He went on the work with lyricists Stephen Sondheim (protege of Hammerstein), Sheldon Harnick and Martin Charnin, with uneven results.
A survivor of cancer of the jaw, a heart attack and a laryngectomy, Richard Rodgers died aged 77 in 1979. In 1990 he was honored posthumously when the 46th Street Theatre was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre. In 2002, his centennial was celebrated worldwide.
Rodgers' daughter, Mary, is the composer of Once Upon A Mattress and an author of children's books. Rodgers' grandson, Adam Guettel, also a musical theatre composer, recently won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for The Light in the Piazza. Peter Melnick, another grandson and composer, received a world premiere production of Adrift In Macao which debuted at the Philadelphia Theatre Company.