Wednesday, June 28, 8902

Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)

Born into a prosperous Jewish family, Richard [Charles] Rodgers (June 28, 1902, New York, NY – December 30, 1979, New York, NY) was the son of Will Rodgers, a prominent physician (who had changed the family name from Rojazinsky), and Mamie Levy.

Richard began playing the piano at six. He attended Public School 10, Townsend Harris Hall, and DeWitt Clinton High School. Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and Rodgers's later collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II all attended Columbia University. In 1921, Rodgers shifted his studies to the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School).

Rodgers was influenced by Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern, as well as the operettas his parents took him to see on Broadway when he was a child.

In 1919, Richard met Lorenz Hart, thanks to Phillip Leavitt, 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.


Fly with Me (1920)


Their first professional production was the 1920 Poor Little Ritz Girl. Their next professional show, The Melody Man, did not premiere until 1924.

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 "made" Rodgers and Hart, was Manhattan. The two were now a Broadway songwriting force.

Throughout the rest of the decade, the duo wrote shows for both Broadway and London, including Dearest Enemy (1925), The Girl Friend (1926), Peggy-Ann (1926), A Connecticut Yankee (1927), She's My Baby (1928), Present Arms (1928), Chee-Chee (1928), Spring Is Here (1929), Heads Up! (1929), Ever Green (1930), and Simple Simon (1930)

In 1930, Rodgers married Dorothy Belle Feiner. Their daughter, Mary, is the composer of Once Upon a Mattress and an author of children's books.


America's Sweetheart (1931)


With the Depression in full swing during the first half of the 1930's, the team decamped to Hollywood. Rodgers later regretted these relatively fallow years, but he and Hart did write a number of classic songs and film scores while in Los Angeles, including Love Me Tonight (1932) (directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who would later direct Rodgers's Oklahoma! on Broadway).

Rodgers also wrote a melody for which Hart wrote three consecutive lyrics that did not take. The fourth resulted in Blue Moon. It is the only hit song by Rodgers not taken from a show or movie. The 1961 arrangement by The Marcels so incensed Rodgers that he wanted to litigate. Oscar Hammerstein talked him out of it, arguing that the recording would ultimately increase royalties, which turned out to be the case.

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 a string of 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'd Rather Be Right (1937),

I Married an Angel (1938), The Boys From Syracuse (1938), Too Many Girls (1939), Higher and Higher (1940), Pal Joey (1940), and their last original work, By Jupiter (1942), to which Rodgers also contributed to the book on several occasions.

Many of the songs from these shows are still sung and remembered, including The Most Beautiful Girl in the World; My Funny Valentine; The Lady Is a Tramp; Falling In Love With Love; and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.

His partnership with Hart coming to an end because of the latter's declining health, Rodgers restruck up his association with Oscar Hammerstein II, with whom he had previously worked even earlier.

Their first musical, the groundbreaking hit, Oklahoma! (1943, including Oh What a Beautiful Mornin), marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in musical theatre history. What was once a collection of songs, dances and comic turns held together by a tenuous plot became an integrated work of music theatre.

The team went on to create a string of variously successful stage and film scores.


Carousel (1945, stage and film)

You'll Never Walk Alone


State Fair (1945, flim)

Allegro (1947, stage)


South Pacific (1949, a Pulitzer Prize winner, stage and film)

Some Enchanted Evening

Bali Hai

Happy Talk


The King And I (1951, stage and film)

Getting To Know You

The March of the Siamese Children


Much of Rodgers's work with both Hart and Hammerstein was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. Rodgers composed twelve themes which Bennett scored 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.


Me And Juliet (1953, stage)


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.


Pipe Dream (1955, stage)

Cinderella (1957, TV)

Flower Drum Song (1958)


The Sound Of Music (1959, stage and film)

The Sound of Music

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

My Favorite Things


Climb Ev'ry Mountain

Edelweiss (Hammerstein's last song)


In 1960, John Coltrane recorded My Favorite Things, in a version with rich modal improvisations over a simple ostinato.


Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.


After Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers wrote both words and music for his first new Broadway project No Strings (1962, which earned two Tony Awards). The show was a minor hit and featured perhaps his last great song, The Sweetest Sounds. He went on to work with lyricists Stephen Sondheim (protege of Hammerstein, in Do I Hear a Waltz?, 1965), Sheldon Harnick (Two by Two, 1970; Rex, 1976), and the team of Martin Charnin and Raymond Jessel (I Remember Mama, in the year of his death, 1979).

Richard Rodgers died in 1979 at age 77 after surviving cancer of the jaw, a heart attack, and a laryngectomy. He had written more than 900 songs and 40 Broadway musicals.

Aside from Marvin Hamlisch, he is the only person to have won Oscar, Grammy, Emm, and Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize.

In 1990, the 46th Street Theatre was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre Rodgers and Hart were each commemorated on United States postage stamps in 1999.

The centennial year of Rodgers's birth (2002) was celebrated worldwide with books, retrospectives, performances, new recordings of his music, and a Broadway revival of Oklahoma!.

Rodgers' grandson, Adam Guettel, also a musical theatre composer, won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for The Light in the Piazza in 2005. Peter Melnick, another grandson, is the composer of Adrift In Macao, which debuted at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2005 and was produced Off Broadway in 2007.

The Internet Movie Database lists 276 film and TV soundtracks using songs by Rodgers, as well as 46 films and TV events that credit him as the composer.

"Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication...[A]fter spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished" (Alec Wilder).

[8903 Khachaturian / 8902 Rodgers / 8902 Willson]