musicians & composers
  • Register

Jerome Kern

Jerome David Kern

(January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945) was an American composer of popular music. He wrote around 700 songs, including such classics as Ol' Man River, A Fine Romance, All The Things You Are , Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and The Way You Look Tonight and more than 100 complete scores for shows and films, including Show Boat, in a career lasting from 1902 until his death.kern jerome david

Jerome Kern was born in New York City. His parents, Fanny and Henry Kern, were both German Jews. They named him Jerome because they lived near Jerome Park, a favorite place of theirs. (Jerome Park was named after Leonard Jerome, who was the father of Jennie Jerome, mother of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.) Fanny encouraged her son to take piano lessons. Henry was a merchandiser and sold pianos among other items.Although Henry wanted his son to go into business with him, Jerome insisted on staying with music.

Kern grew up on East 56th Street in Midtown Manhattan, where he attended public schools. He studied at the New York College of Music and then briefly in 1904 in Heidelberg, Germany. From 1905, Kern spent a lot of time in London, and he married in Walton-on-Thames in 1910. In New York, he started working as a rehearsal pianist, initially contributing numbers for interpolation into other composers' scores, and by 1915 he was represented in many Broadway shows. On May 1 of that year, he was meant to accompany Charles Frohman to London on board the RMS Lusitania, but overslept after being kept up late playing requests at a party.

Kern's biggest hit at that time was the song They Didn't Believe Me, with lyric by Edward Laska. It was interpolated into the show The Girl from Utah.

In 1920, he wrote the entire score for the musical Sally. Otto Harbach wrote the script and lyrics. From this popular show came the song Look for the Silver Lining, performed by the rising Broadway star Marilyn Miller.

1925 was a major turning point in Kern's career when he met Oscar Hammerstein II with whom he would entertain a lifelong friendship and collaboration. Their first show (written together with Harbach) was Sunny, which featured the song Who (Stole My Heart Away)?. The by-now renowned Marilyn Miller played the title role in Sunny, as she had in Sally. Kern and Hammerstein next wrote the famous Show Boat in 1927, which includes the well-known songs "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Based on the book of the same name by Edna Ferber, "Show Boat" deviated from the usual musical revue of that era and featured an unusually dramatic plot highlighting racism and miscegenation, a taboo subject in musicals then. (A 1946 revival would also try to integrate choreography into the show, in the manner of Rodgers and Hammerstein, as would  the 1993 Harold Prince revival.) Several of the songs from "Show Boat" were arranged by Charles Miller into the orchestral work Scenario for Orchestra: Themes from Show Boat in 1941. This was premiered and first recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski, the first instance that such an honor had been paid to music from a Broadway show.

Show Boat remains Kern's most often revived work. In his album notes for the 3-CD 1988 recording of the show, musical theatre historian Miles Kreuger hailed Show Boat as the greatest single step forward in American musical theatre, enabling composers, lyricists and librettists to introduce more mature subject matter into their shows.

Music in the Air (1932) was another Kern-Hammerstein collaboration. This musical is remembered for "The Song Is You". Another tune from the show, "In Egern on the Tegern See," is parodied by the song "In Izzenschnooken on the Lovely Essenzook Zee" in Rick Besoyan's satirical 1959 musical Little Mary Sunshine.

The musical Roberta (1933) by Kern and Harbach gave us Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and featured, among others, Bob Hope, Fred MacMurray, George Murphy, and Sydney Greenstreet, all in the early stages of their careers.

In 1930, Jerome Kern was placed under contract by Warner Bros. to produce a series of musicals. Jerome Kern worked on Men of the Sky which was released in (1931). Unfortunately, in 1931 the public was apathetic towards musicals and the film was virtually ignored. Consequently, the Warner Bros. bought out his contract and he returned to the stage. In 1935, when musical films had become popular once again, Kern moved to Hollywood and started working on music for films but continued working on Broadway productions, too. His last Broadway show was the rather unsuccessful Very Warm for May in 1939; the score included another Kern–Hammerstein classic, "All The Things You Are". In 1985, the centenary of his birth, a rediscovered recording of a radio production featuring the original cast received a Grammy Nomination as Best Cast Show Album. It was Kern's last Broadway show; he suffered a heart attack in 1939 and was told by his doctors to concentrate on film scores - a less stressful task since Hollywood songwriters were not as involved with the production of films as Broadway songwriters were with the production of stage musicals.

Kern's Hollywood career was successful indeed. For Swing Time (starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), he wrote "The Way You Look Tonight" (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields), which won the Academy Award in 1936 for the best song. Some other songs in the film include "A Fine Romance", "Pick Yourself Up", and "Never Gonna Dance". In 1941, he and Hammerstein wrote "The Last Time I Saw Paris", a homage to the French city just recently occupied by the Germans. The song was used in the movie Lady Be Good and won another Oscar for Best Song - the only time a song not written for the film it appears in won the Oscar. In 1944, Kern teamed up with Ira Gershwin to write the songs for one of his best-remembered film musicals, Cover Girl, starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. It featured the classic song Long Ago and Far Away.

Although Kern generally wrote for musical theatre, the harmonic richness of his compositions lend themselves well to the jazz idiom, which typically emphasizes improvisation based on a harmonic structure; many have been adopted by jazz musicians and have become standard tunes.

Jerome Kern died of a stroke in 1945, at the age of 60 in his birthplace New York. He had been overseeing auditions for a new revival of Show Boat, and was due to compose the score for the musical Annie Get Your Gun (which task, following his death, was passed to Irving Berlin). At the time of Kern's death, MGM was filming a fictionalized version of his life, Till the Clouds Roll By, which was released in 1946 starring Robert Walker as Kern.

Complete Work for Broadway

Note: All shows are musical comedies for which Kern was the sole composer unless otherwise specified.

During his first phase of work for Broadway theater (1904-11), Kern wrote songs that were featured in revues or other collaborative musicals and occasionally co-wrote comic musicals with one or two other composers. In some cases, the show had opened in London, and Kern contributed additional music for songs interpolated into the New York production. During visits to London in 1905-10 he also composed songs that were first performed in London shows.
* Mr. Wix of Wickham (1904) - co-composer and co-lyricist
* The Catch of the Season (1905) - contributing composer
* The Earl and the Girl (1905) - featured songwriter
* The Rich Mr. Hoggenheimer (1906) - featured songwriter
* The Dairymaids (1907) - featured songwriter
* The Girls of Gottenberg (1908) - featured songwriter for "I Can't Say That You're The Only One"
* Fluffy Ruffles (1908) - co-composer (for eight out of ten songs, including "Fluffly Ruffles")
* Kitty Grey (1909) - featured composer for "If The Girl Wants You (Never Mind the Color of Her Eyes)" and "Just Good Friends"
* King of Cadonia (1910) - co-composer
* La Belle Paree (1911) - revue - co-composer
* Ziegfeld Follies of 1911 (1911) - revue - featured composer for "I'm a Crazy Daffy-Dill (Daffydil)"

Beginning in 1912, the more-experienced Kern began to work on dramatically-concerned shows, including music for plays, and for the first time in his young career, he wrote musicals as the sole composer. His regular lyricist collaborators during this period were Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Harry B. Smith, Anne Caldwell, and Howard Dietz.

* The Girl from Montmartre (1912) - play - co-incidental music composer
* The "Mind-the-Paint" Girl (1912) - play - incidental music composer
* The Red Petticoat (1912)
* Oh, I Say! (1913)
* When Claudia Smiles (1914) - featured co-lyricist for "Ssh! You'll Waken Mr. Doyle"
* The Girl from Utah (1914) - Added five songs to the American production of this Paul Rubens musical, including the classic "They Didn't Believe Me"
* 90 in the Shade (1915)
* Nobody Home (1915)
* Cousin Lucy (1915) - play - incidental music composer
* Miss Information (1915) - play - incidental music composer
* Very Good Eddie (1915)
o Revived in 1975
* Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 (1916) - revue - featured composer for "When the Lights Are Low", "My Lady of the Nile", and "Ain't It Funny What a Difference Just a Few Drinks Make?"
* Have a Heart (1917)
* Love o' Mike (1917)
* Oh, Boy! (1917)
* Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 (1917) - featured composer for "Because You Are Just You (Just Because You're You)"
* Leave It to Jane (1917)
* Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918)
* Toot-Toot! (1918)
* Rock-a-Bye Baby (1918)
* Head Over Heels (1918)
* She's a Good Fellow (1919)
* The Night Boat (1920)
* Hitchy-Koo of 1920 (1920) - revue
* Sally (1920)
o Revived in 1923, 1948
* Good Morning Dearie (1921)
* The Bunch and Judy (1922)
* Stepping Stones (1923)
* Sitting Pretty (1924)
* Dear Sir (1924)

During the last phase of his life, Jerome Kern continued to work with his previous collaborators but also met Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, with whom Kern wrote his most lasting, memorable, and well-known works.

* Sunny (1925)
* The City Chap (1925)
* Criss Cross (1926)
* Lucky (1927) - co-composer
* Show Boat (1927) - (2 out of 19 songs were written by others; the music for the song Bill was by Kern, but the lyric was co-written by P.G. Wodehouse)
o Revived in 1932, 1946, 1954, 1961, 1976, 1983, 1994
* Sweet Adeline (1929)
* The Cat and the Fiddle (1931) - co-composer, co-lyricist, co-bookwriter, and outliner of orchestrations which were done by Robert Russell Bennett)
* Music in the Air (1932) - composer and co-director
o Revived in 1951
* Roberta (1933)
* Mamba's Daughters (1939) - play - featured songwriter
o Revived in 1940
* Very Warm for May (1939)

In addition to revivals of his most popular shows, the music of Jerome Kern was posthumously featured in a variety of revues, musicals, and concerts on Broadway.

* Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood (1986) - revue consisting solely of songs composed by Kern and with lyrics by twelve different writers
* Big Deal (1986) - dance revue - featured composer for "Pick Yourself Up"
* Something Wonderful (1995) - concert celebrating Oscar Hammerstein II's 100th birthday - featured composer
* Paul Robeson (1995) - one-man play - featured composer for "Ol' Man River"
* Dream (1997) - revue - featured composer for "You Were Never Lovelier", "I'm Old Fashioned", and "Dearly Beloved"
* Swing! (1999) - dance revue - featured songwriter for "I Won't Dance"
* Elaine Stritch at Liberty (2002) - one-woman show - featured songwriter for "All In Fun"
* Never Gonna Dance (2003) - musical consisting solely of songs composed by Kern and with lyrics by nine different writers