- Composer, Playwright, Songwriting Genius
Richard Rodgers was born in Queens, New York on 28th June 1902. His parents, William Rodgers and Mamie Levy, were enthusiastic about playing the piano and singing. Rodgers went to the theater many times with his grandparents when he was a young boy and was greatly influenced by Jerome Kern’s musicals. He started playing the piano at the age of six and was composing pieces by the age of nine years old. Rodgers was brought up in a home surrounded by music, which helped him on his journey as a Broadway composer, a career that would last him six decades.
His working life can be viewed in three stages:
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
In 1919 Rodgers met Lorenz Hart, a lyricist, and from 1920-1943 they formed an amazing partnership.
"I was enchanted by this little man and his ideas. Neither of us mentioned it, but we evidently knew we would work together and I left Hart's house, having acquired in one afternoon a career, a partner, a best friend and a permanent source of irritation." - Richard Rodgers
Rodgers would first write the music, to which Hart would then write the words. Their first professional production was written in 1920 called ‘Poor Little Ritz Girl’. After that there followed a succession of hit shows which included:
Garrick Gaieties (1925)
Dearest Enemy (1925)
The Girl Friend (1926)
A Connecticut Yankee (1927)
Present Arms (1928)
In 1931 however, they wanted to experience writing songs in Hollywood. This proved to be an unhappy time, as they lost control over their work, and so in 1935 they decided to go back to writing songs for Broadway. However, whilst in Hollywood they did write one of their biggest hits called ‘Blue Moon’.
After returning from Hollywood, they wrote an endless supply of hit material:
On Your Toes (1936)
Babes in Arms (1937)
I’d Rather Be Right (1937)
I Married an Angel (1938)
The Boys from Syracuse (1938)
Too Many Girls (1939)
Pal Joey (1940)
By Jupiter (1942)
‘By Jupiter’ was to be the last show that Rodgers and Lorenz would write together. In November 1943 Lorenz died at an early age of forty-eight years old. Rodgers then formed a new partnership with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein 2.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Rodgers and Hammerstein formed a brilliant partnership that would last for seventeen years. The way the two professional men worked differed from Rodgers partnership with Lorenz. This time Oscar Hammerstein would first write the lyrics, followed by Rodgers writing the accompanying music.
“Whenever I get an idea for a song, even before jotting down the notes, I can hear it in the orchestra, I can smell it in the scenery, I can see the actor who will sing it, and I am aware of an audience listening it” - Richard Rodgers
Their first hit musical on Broadway was 'Oklahoma!' after which followed a string of other popular shows:
State Fair (1945) – a movie musical
South Pacific (1949)
Me and Juliet (1953)
Pipe Dream (1955)
Flower Drum Song (1958)
The Sound of Music (1959)
*The Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella production was written for television.
The Sound of Music was to be the last musical that this great duo would write together. Hammerstein fell ill during its composition and died in 1960, just months after it had been released on Broadway.
Richard Rodgers Solo
After the death of Hammerstein, Rodgers decided to compose his music alone. He wrote both the music and lyrics for 'No Strings' (1962), which he won two Tony awards. He also composed for television, and wrote the background music in 1962 for a TV series called ‘Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years’. For this series he won an Emmy award for the music, a Gold Record and a commendation from the US Navy.
Rodgers music was once described as being both ‘traditional and inventive’, always writing fresh, new music. Adam Cooper (Dance Choreographer and former principal of the Royal Ballet), said that a composer has really achieved iconic status when his songs inspire other artists and crosses different mediums.
“Rodgers’ music is so easy to choreograph as it feels so narrative on its own” - Adam Cooper
Even though Rodgers died on December 30th 1979 at the age of seventy-seven years, he is still remembered and commemorated to this day. For the Richard Rodgers 100th birthday concert, Rodgers was honoured by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organisation. It was appropriately called "Something Good: A Broadway Salute to Richard Rodgers on His 100th Birthday". This was a concert that featured songs from Broadway musicals past and present. Rodgers, during his lifetime, had written over nine hundred songs, so there was quite a collection to choose from!
On a personal note, he married Dorothy Feiner in 1930, and had two daughters, Mary and Linda.
Richard Rodgers is a legendary composer and is only one of two persons (the other one being Marvin Hamlisch) who has won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize. What an incredible achievement!
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