musicians & composers
  • Register

Richard Rodgers


Richard Rodgers' contributions to the musical theatre of his day were extraordinary, and his influence on the musical theatre of today and tomorrow is legendary. His career spanned more than six decades, and his hits ranged from the silver screens of Hollywood to the bright lights of Broadway, London and beyond. He was the recipient of countless awards, including Pulitzers, Tonys, Oscars, Grammys and Emmys. He wrote more than 900 published songs, and forty Broadway musicals.richard rodgers

Richard RodgersRichard Charles Rodgers was born in New York City on June 28, 1902. His earliest professional credits, beginning in 1920, included a series of musicals for Broadway, London and Hollywood written exclusively with lyricist Lorenz Hart. In the first decade of their collaboration, Rodgers & Hart averaged two new shows every season, beginning with POOR LITTLE RITZ GIRL, and also including THE GARRICK GAIETIES (of 1925 and 1926), DEAREST ENEMY, PEGGY-ANN, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE and CHEE-CHEE. After spending the years 1931 to 1935 in Hollywood (where they wrote the scores for several feature films including LOVE ME TONIGHT starring Maurice Chevalier, HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM starring Al Jolson and THE PHANTOM PRESIDENT starring George M. Cohan), they returned to New York to compose the score for Billy Rose's circus extravaganza, JUMBO.

A golden period followed -- golden for Rodgers & Hart, and golden for the American musical: 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), HIGHER AND HIGHER (1940), PAL JOEY (1940), and BY JUPITER (1942). The Rodgers & Hart partnership came to an end with the death of Lorenz Hart in 1943, at the age of 48.

richard rodgersEarlier that year Rodgers had joined forces with lyricist and author Oscar Hammerstein II, whose work in the field of operetta throughout the '20s and '30s had been as innovative as Rodgers' own accomplishments in the field of musical comedy. OKLAHOMA! (1943), the first Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, was also the first of a new genre, the musical play, representing a unique fusion of Rodgers' musical comedy and Hammerstein's operetta. A milestone in the development of the American musical, it also marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in Broadway musical history, and was followed by CAROUSEL (1945), ALLEGRO (1947), SOUTH PACIFIC (1949), THE KING AND I (1951), ME AND JULIET (1953), PIPE DREAM (1955), FLOWER DRUM SONG (1958) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1959). The team wrote one movie musical, STATE FAIR (1945), and one for television, CINDERELLA. (1957). Collectively, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals earned 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards and 2 Emmy Awards. In 1998 Rodgers & Hammerstein were cited by Time Magazine and CBS News as among the 20 most influential artists of the 20th century and in 1999 they were jointly commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.

Despite Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers continued to write for the Broadway stage. His first solo entry, NO STRINGS in 1962, earned him two Tony Awards for music and lyrics, and was followed by DO I HEAR A WALTZ? (1965, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), TWO BY TWO (1970, lyrics by Martin Charnin), REX (1976, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) and I REMEMBER MAMA (1979, lyrics by Martin Charnin and Raymond Jessel).

NO STRINGS was not the only project for which Rodgers worked solo: as composer/lyricist he wrote the score for a 1967 television adaptation of Bernard Shaw's ANDROCLES AND THE LION for NBC; contributed songs to a 1962 remake of STATE FAIR; and to the 1965 movie version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. He composed one ballet score (GHOST TOWN, premiered in 1939), and two television documentary scores -- VICTORY AT SEA in 1952 and THE VALIANT YEARS in 1960 (the former earning him an Emmy, a Gold Record and a commendation from the U.S. Navy.)

Richard Rodgers died at home in New York City on December 30, 1979 at the age of 77. On March 27, 1990, he was honored posthumously with Broadway's highest accolade when the 46th Street Theatre, owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization, was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre, home to The Richard Rodgers Gallery, a permanent exhibit in the lobby areas presented by ASCAP which honors the composer's life and works.

Profile of Rodgers

Born: June 28, 1902, Long Island, New York
Died: December 1979, New York

American composer. He is considered one of the greatest writers in American musical theater.

When we watch a Broadway musical, we expect a clearly defined story line, with musical numbers that support and propel the plot and with choreography and instrumental music integrated to produce a seamless and dramatic whole. Many of these expectations arise out of the classical musicals of the 1940s and 1950s; the shows of Richard Rodgers are some of the most important and popular of these works.

Rodgers was mainly self-taught as a composer; His earliest influences were the operetta style of Victor Herbert and the songs of Jerome Kern. He began creating music for the stage as a student at Columbia University and the Institute of Musical Art. These works, intended for amateur performance, were often little more than musical reviews in a popular style. In 1918, he began his first important collaboration. This was with the lyricist Lorenz Hart, and it lasted until Hart's death in 1943. As a team, Rodgers and Hart created some of the most memorable songs of the American stage, guided by Hart's witty lyrics and seemingly inexhaustible rhymes and Rodgers's direct and often transparent melodic style. As the two continued to work together, they began to create more integrated theater works. For these, Rodgers contributed more ambitious instrumental pieces, such as the ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" for their 1936 show On Your Toes, choreographed by George Balanchine.

After Hart's death, Rodgers teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein II. This collaboration produced some of the most popular pieces in Broadway history, including Oklahoma! (1944), Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959). In addition to their success on the stage, all of these were made into lavish Hollywood musicals, and were among the most important works in this genre. In these works, Rodgers's lyrical gift became more central, and the songs often broke away from the standard forms (such as the usual verse/chorus approach) in order to fit the needs of the drama. After Hammerstein's death, Rodgers wrote other shows with other lyricists (including Stephen Sondheim), but none reached the heights of his work with Hammerstein or Hart. Rodgers is also known for film music, especially his score for the film Victory at Sea. In this, as well as much of his Broadway work, he had the assistance of Robert Russell Bennett, who provided the orchestration.

The impact of Rodgers's shows, both in terms of popular appeal and in their influence on other writers, was tremendous. Both Oklahoma!, which is often pointed to as a turning point for the modern musical comedy, and South Pacific (based on James Michener's Tales from the South Pacific) were awarded Pulitzer Prizes. These, and many of his other shows, remain staples of the Broadway and amateur stage.

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. He is one of only two individuals to have won an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony Award, and Pulitzer Prize.

Life and career

Born in Arverne, Queens, New York to a prosperous Jewish family, Richard Rodgers was the son of Dr. Will Rodgers, a prominent physician who had changed the family name from Abrahams, and his wife Mamie (nee Levy). Richard Rodgers attended the same public school as Bennett Cerf and began playing the piano at age six. Rodgers attended Townsend Harris Hall and DeWitt Clinton High School. In 1919 Phillip Leavitt, a friend of Rodger's older brother, introduced him to lyricist Lorenz Hart. Rodgers, Hart, and Rodgers' later partner Oscar Hammerstein II all attended Columbia University; Rodgers dropped out in 1921 and then attended the Institute of Musical Art (Juilliard). Rodgers was influenced by composers like Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern, as well as by the operettas his parents took him to see on Broadway when he was a child.

Main article: Rodgers and Hart

Rodgers and Hart struggled for years in the field of musical comedy, writing a number of amateur shows, but they made their professional debut with the song "Any Old Place With You," featured in the 1919 Broadway musical comedy A Lonely Romeo. Their first professional production was Poor Little Ritz Girl in 1920, and their next professional show was not until The Melody Man in 1924. Rodgers was considering quitting show biz 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 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 for both Broadway and London, including Dearest Enemy (1925), The Girl Friend (1926), Peggy-Ann (1926), A Connecticut Yankee (1927), and Present Arms (1928). Their 1920s shows produced standards such as "Here In My Arms," "Mountain Greenery," "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, writing a number of songs and film scores, including Love Me Tonight (1932) (directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who would direct Rodgers' Oklahoma! on Broadway) which introduced three standards: "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." 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 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, which included the ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue", choreographed by George Balanchine), Babes In Arms (1937), I Married an Angel (1938), 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."

Much of Rodgers work with both Hart and Hammerstein was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett.

Main article: Rodgers and Hammerstein

Anticipating the end of a partnership, Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II, with whom he had previously written a number of songs (before ever working with Lorenz Hart). Their first musical, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 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 and were each made into hit films, Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949, another Pulitzer Prize winner), 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," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "Do-Re-Mi," and Edelweiss," Hammerstein's last song.

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

Rodgers worked without a lyricist to provide twelve themes for Robert Russell Bennett to use in scoring for the 26-episode 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. Rodgers likewise composed themes for ABC's similar Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years (documentary), scored by Eddie Sauter and Robert Emmett Dolan, for which he won an Emmy Award.

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), 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 New York City. In 1990 he was honored posthumously when the 46th Street Theatre was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre. In 1999, Rodgers and Hart were each commemorated on United States postage stamps. In 2002, Rodgers' centennial was celebrated worldwide, with books, retrospectives, performances, new recordings of his music, and a Broadway revival of Oklahoma!

Critical reputation

In his landmark book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Alec Wilder said of Rodgers:

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...After spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished.

– Alec Wilder, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950


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. 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.

Major works
1954 revival cast recording

* Fly With Me (1920) (lyrics by Hart)
* The Garrick Gaieties (1925–26) (lyrics by Hart)
* Dearest Enemy (1925) (lyrics by Hart)
* The Girlfriend (1926) (lyrics by Hart)
* A Connecticut Yankee (1927) (lyrics by Hart)
* Present Arms (1928) (lyrics by Hart)
* Love Me Tonight (1932) (lyrics by Hart)
* On Your Toes (1936) (lyrics by Hart)
* Babes in Arms (1937) (lyrics by Hart)
* I'd Rather Be Right (1937) (lyrics by Hart)
* I Married an Angel (1938) (lyrics by Hart)
* The Boys from Syracuse (1938) (lyrics by Hart)
* Too Many Girls (1939) (lyrics by Hart)
* Higher and Higher (1940) (lyrics by Hart)
* Pal Joey (1940–41) (lyrics by Hart)
* By Jupiter (1942) (lyrics by Hart)

* Oklahoma! (1943) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* Carousel (1945) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* State Fair (1945) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* Allegro (1947) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* South Pacific (1949) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* The King and I (1951) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* Me and Juliet (1953) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* Pipe Dream (1955) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* Cinderella (1957) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* Flower Drum Song (1958) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* The Sound of Music (1959) (lyrics by Hammerstein)
* No Strings (1962) (lyrics by Rodgers)
* Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
* Two by Two (1970) (lyrics by Martin Charnin)
* Rex (1976) (lyrics by Sheldon Harnick)
* I Remember Mama (1979) (lyrics by Martin Charnin)
* A Grand Night for Singing (Rodgers and Hammerstein revue)
* State Fair (1996) (lyrics by Hammerstein)

Wider influence

* The Internet Movie Database lists 276 film and TV soundtracks using Rodgers' songs, as well as 46 films and TV events where he is credited as the composer.
* In 1960, the waltz "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music was adopted and transformed into a seminal jazz performance by the saxophonist John Coltrane (The tune became a regular part of Coltrane's repertoire.)
* "Blue Moon", written with lyricist Lorenz Hart, has become both a pop and rock standard, with Glen Gray & The Casa Loma Orchestra's version hitting #1 in 1935, and The Marcels's version hitting #1 in 1961. It is the only hit song Rodgers had that wasn't taken from a show or movie.
* Due to its being covered by Liverpudlian band Gerry & The Pacemakers, "You'll Never Walk Alone", (originally from Carousel), is the anthem of Liverpool F.C. - and in the U.K. has become almost synonymous with that football club.
* Jerry Lewis ends his Labor Day telethon singing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
* "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" from the musical Oklahoma! is sometimes mistaken for a traditional folk song.
* "Edelweiss", the "Landler" (Rodgers' version of a traditional Austrian dance-tune) and "Do-Re-Mi", from The Sound of Music frequently go unrecognized as Rodgers' work.
* The song "Happy Talk" is covered by Daniel Johnston and Jad Fair. Captain Sensible did a jaunty rendition, complete with burlesque organ, in the mid-eighties. The Chorus is also used by Dizzee Rascal.


In 1950, the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."

At its 1978 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded Rodgers its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.

Several US schools are named after Richard Rodgers.