Richard Rodgers

On this date in 1902, songwriter Richard Rodgers, one of the great composers of musical theater, was born in Long Island, N.Y., to a prosperous Jewish family (with an atheist grandmother). While attending Columbia University, he met his first major writing partner, lyricist Lorenz Hart, then studied serious music at the Institute of Musical Art, known today as Juliiard. After the success of the Garrick Gaieties, Rodgers and Hart became a huge Broadway songwriting force. During the 1920s and 1930s they produced the musicals Babes in Arms, Pal Joey, and The Boys From Syracuse. After Hart's early death, Rodgers teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein II, also nonreligious, to produce Oklahoma! (1943), and ten more musicals, including Flower Drum Song, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, plus the movie State Fair. He wrote a total of 39 Broadway musicals in his life. Rodgers vastly improved the musical theater by seamlessly weaving music, words and dance. The Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards. After Hammerstein's death, Rodgers collaborated with Stephen Sondheim (nonreligious), Sheldon Harnick, and Martin Charnin.

Many of the standards in the Great American Songbook were written by Richard Rodgers: “Blue Moon,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Getting to Know You,” “Have You Met Miss Jones?” “If I Loved You,” “Isn't it Romantic?” “It Might as Well be Spring,” “Manhattan” “My Favorite Things,” “My Funny Valentine,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Spring is Here,” “This Can't Be Love,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” “With a Song in my Heart,” “You Took Advantage of Me,” and many more. Rodgers' wife, Dorothy, said: “We are not religious. We are social Jews.” Biographer Meryle Secrest writes: “Those around him knew that . . . Rodgers was an atheist. At the age of twelve Mary Rodgers Guettel [Rodgers' daughter] asked her father whether he believed in God and he answered that he believed in people. ‘If somebody is really sick, I don't pray to God, I look for the best doctor in town.’ ” Somewhere For Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers. D. December 30, 1979.

On “inspiration”:

“That's a bad word for what happens to me when I write. What I do is not as fancy as some people may think. . . This isn't a question of sitting on the top of a hill and waiting for inspiration to strike. It's work. People have said ‘You're a genius.’ I say, ‘No, it's my job.’ ”

—Quoted in Somewhere For Me: A Biography of Richard Rodgers, by Meryle Secrest (2001), page 384.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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