Richard Rodger, the musician extraordinaire, who helped legitimate American musical as an art form, is a name to reckon with in the musical world. With an eventful musical career, spanning across six decades, his contributions to the musical world is indeed legendary. With more than 900 songs and 40 Broadway musicals to his credit, Richards’s masterpieces extended from the silver screens to the bright lights of the Broadway, and beyond. His musical camaraderie with lyricist Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein helped him give a new definition to musical theater. During his lifetime, Richard Rodger went on to receive a slew of awards and recognitions including Emmys, Grammys, Pulitzers, Oscars and Tonys. Richard Rodgers was one of the bigwigs of Broadway productions. Best known as the composer of “Sound of Music” and “Oklahoma”, Richard Rodgers musical pieces were adored by both kids and adults. Such was the effect of this great composer. Rodgers was considered a musician with a lot of consistence and excellence, and his innovativeness and creativity were certainly at par.
Richard Rodgers’s Childhood and Early Life
Richard Charles Rodgers was born in New York City on June 28, 1902. He was born in an affluent German Jewish family to Mamie Levy and Dr. William Abrahams Rodgers. William Abrahams Rodgers was a renowned physician. Richard started playing the piano when he was six years old. He went to Townsend Harris Hall and DeWitt Clinton High School. His early teenage summer days were spent in Camp Wigwam. Rodgers composed some of his first songs at the camp. Rodgers attended Columbia University. He joined the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. In 1921, Rodgers transferred to the “Institute of Musical Art”.
A major part of Richard Rodgers career was about his musical collaborations with Hart and Hammerstein. His partnerships with Hart and Hammerstein resulted in a number of hits for both stage and screen.
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
Richard met Hart in 1919 as they both attended Columbia University. They struggled for many years writing musical comedy. After writing together for many years, in 1925 they came up with “The Garrick Gaieties”, their first successful Broadway musical. This musical introduced their first hit song “Manhattan”. “Dearest enemy”, “Peggy-ann”, “A Connecticut Yankee” and “Chee-chee” were few other musicals that Richard and Hart wrote together before moving to Hollywood. In the 1930s, they moved to Hollywood and wrote scores for several films including “Love me Tonight”, “Hallelujah”, “I’m a bum” and “The Phantom President”. They returned to New York in 1935 and came up with the score for Billy Rose’s circus extravaganza, “jumbo”. “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) were some of the other hits that this partnership came up with. However, Rodgers and Hart partnership ended in 1943 when Hart died at the age of 48.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
When Hart was unwell, Rodgers started collaborating with Hammerstein to write a number of songs. Although they were not close friends, they were from the same college, respected each other’s work and occasionally lunched together. Their first musical was “Oklahoma” in 1943, which was an excellent fusion of Rodgers’ musical comedy and Hammerstein’s operetta. “Oklahoma” was a milestone in the development of American musicals. Oscar and Hammerstein had a successful partnership in Broadway Musicals. “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) were some of the other hits the duo doled out for the Broadway. They wrote one movie musical, “State Fair” (1945), and one musical for television, “Cinderella” (1957). The Rodger-Hammerstein duo won many prizes and awards together. Together they received 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 2 Grammy Awards and 2 Emmy Awards. In 1998, they were cited to be amongst the top 20 most influential artists of the 20th century. Also in 1999, they were observed on a US postage stamp.
After Hammerstein’s death in 1960, Rodgers continued to write for Broadway. His first solo entry was “No Strings” in 1962. He received two Tony awards for music and lyrics for this production. This was followed by “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (1965), “Two By Two” (1970), “Rex” (1976) and “I Remember Mama” (1979). Rodgers had also written solo for the television adaption of Bernard Shaw’s “Androcles and the Lion” for NBC. Rodgers contributed songs to the remake of “State Fair” in 1962 and to the movie version of “Sound of music”.
Rodgers married Dorothy Belle Feiner in the year 1930. Together they had two daughters and six grandchildren. They had a daughter together in 1931, Mary who later became the composer of “Once upon a Mattress” and an author of children's books. Rodgers had another daughter Linda in the 1930s. Adam Guettel, who was Rodgers grandson, was also a musical theatre composer. He won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for “The Light” in the Piazza in 2005. Another grandson, Peter Melnick, is the composer of “Adrift in Macao”.
Health And Death
Richard Rodgers died in New York City on December 30, 1979 at the age of 77. In 1955, during the rehearsals of “Juliet”, Rodgers felt twinges of pain in his left jaw. He was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and part of his jaw with the teeth. He was also suffering from alcoholism and depression. When he was 72 years, he had throat cancer and underwent laryngectomy. This deprived him of his normal speech and he learnt esophageal speech. Finally, he passed away on December 30, 1979. His body was cremated and there was no grave, no statue and no marker. The location of his ashes remains a secret. In 1990, “The 46th Street Theatre” was renamed as “The Richard Rodgers Theatre” to commemorate the legend.
Richards work resulted in a large number of awards
Academy Award For Best Original Song
“State Fair” – 'It Might as Well Be Spring' (1945)
“Pal Joey” (1940), eleven awards
“The Sound of Music” (1960) for Best Show Album
“No Strings” (1962) for Best Original Cast Show Album
New York Drama Critics Award
“Pal Joey” (1940)
“South Pacific” (1950) for Drama
“Oklahoma” (1944) for 'Special Awards And Citations – Letters'
Winston Churchill – “The Valiant Years” (1962) for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composed
- “South Pacific” (1950) for Best Musical, Best Producers, Musical and Best Original Score
- “The King and I” (1952) for Best Musical
- “The Sound of Music” (1960) for Best Musical
- “No Strings” (1962) for Best Composer and Lyricist
- Special Award in 1962
- Special Award in 1972
- Lawrence Langner Memorial Award for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in the American Theatre 1979
Barnard College Award
Barnard Medal of Distinction (1978)