RICHARD RODGERS

Biography

Richard Rodgers was born in 1902 in Arverne, New York City to a physician father (Dr William Rodgers) and Mamie Levy. He took up an interest in the piano aged six and attended DeWitt Clinton High School. The young musician developed his hobby further at summer camps where he wrote his first songs. Rodgers' first amateur musical productions followed in 1917; they were One Minute Please and Up Stage and Down. In 1919 the song-writer met Lorenz Hart at Columbia University though two years later Rodgers moved to the Institute of Musical Art.

In 1919 and 1920 the duo saw their first work performed professionally. 'Any Old Place With You' was part of the musical comedy A Lonely Romeo and in 1920 Poor Little Ritz Girl was their first proper production. On leaving university Rodgers worked for renowned actor and producer Lew Fields as his musical director however a lack of a breakthrough with his song-writing partner meant he was contemplating leaving the world of musical theatre before they came good with The Garrick Gaieties in 1925. It was shown by the Theatre Guild and ran again a year later, thrusting the duo onto the Broadway song-writing scene.

They went on to produce shows in New York and London for the rest of the twenties with well-known songs like "Blue Room", "Manhattan" and "My Heart Stood Still" setting the standard for future productions. The thirties saw Rodgers' personal life develop. He married Dorothy Feiner in 1930, and in 1934 and 1935 the couple welcomed daughters Mary and Lindsay into the world.

Depression hit the United States hard at the turn of the decade and Rodgers and Hart moved to Hollywood to contribute to films, a medium which was increasing rapidly in popularity. They were contracted to MGM and wrote scores to Love Me Tonight, The Phantom President and Hallelujah! I'm A Bum. Their best known song of the first half of the decade though was the timeless classic, "Blue Moon" which was released commercially.

In the 1935 the Rodgers and Hart returned to New York and reeled off a string of Broadway classics (Jumbo, On Your Toes and Pal Joey amongst others) that showcased Hart's lyrical brilliance and Rodgers' musical talent. Famous songs from these shows include: "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", "Little Girl Blue" and "The Lady is a Tramp". The pair broke new ground with The Boys from Syracuse in 1938, as it was the first musical that Shakespeare had been used as a basis for. And Pal Joey (1940) was the first musical comedy to win the New York Drama Critics Award.

Lorenz Hart died in 1943 and the last musical the pair worked on was By Jupiter, but by that time Rodgers had already cultivated a working relationship with the man whom many more classic shows would be written with, Oscar Hammerstein II. The two had already met and written songs previously, even before Rodgers had met Hart with both attending Columbia University. Their first hit, Oklahoma!, came in the year that Hart died and was a culmination of both Hart and Hammerstein's former song-writing partner Jerome Kirn rejecting the idea of producing a musical based on the stage play Green Grow The Lilacs.

Oklahoma! represented a clear break from previous methods of musical theatre and is well-regarded for its introduction of emotional depth and complex storylines to the genre and the emphasis on songs being part of the storyline, rather than just a diversion. It was a truly ground-breaking achievement and was the first of many huge successes for the duo over the next 17 years. Their next musical was Carousel – another award-winning hit – and all their shows up until final production The Sound of Music were packed full of classic songs like "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'". "Edelweiss" was the last song they wrote together.

Their legacy is such that in 2009 Forbes magazine adjudged them to be the second top-earning dead celebrity with $235 million the amount they are thought to have been worth if they had still been alive.

Rodgers also had success in other formats as well as his Emmy Award winning theme music for an ABC documentary about Winston Churchill and the TV series Victory at Sea proved. Following Hammerstein's death n 1960 Rodgers worked with Stephen Sondheim, Sheldon Harnick and Martin Charnin on a few musicals with mixed results though in 1962 he won two Tony Awards for No Strings – the only musical he wrote the words and music for.

Rodgers passed away in 1979 and is regarded as one of the most influential composers in the history of musical theatre. His legacy is continued by grandson Adam Guettal - who won Tony Awards in 2005 for The Light in the Piazza – and another grandson Peter Melnick who is a composer. His daughter Mary wrote the scores for many musicals in the fifties and wrote a series of children's books and currently serves as a director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein organisation.

Compositions

Rodgers' most well known compositions with Hammerstein as lyricist.

Oklahoma! (1943)
Carousel (1945)
State Fair (1945)
South Pacific (1949)
The King and I (1951)
Cinderella (1957)
Flower Drum Song (1958)
The Sound of Music (1959)

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The 226 West 46th Street Theatre was renamed the Richard Rodgers Theater in Richard Rodgers' honour in 1990.

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Richard Rodgers Books and Play Memorabilia