Richard Rodgers

On this date in 1902, songwriter Richard Rodgers, one of the great composers of musical theater, was born on 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 revues (1925-30), 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 to produce “Oklahoma!” (1943) and 10 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 39 Broadway musicals and vastly improved the musical theater by seamlessly weaving music, words and dance. The Rodgers and 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, Sheldon Harnick and Martin Charnin.

Rodgers wrote many of the standards in the Great American Songbook: “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.”

He died at age 77 after surviving cancer of the jaw, a heart attack and a laryngectomy. His ashes were scattered at sea. (D. 1979)

PHOTO: Rodgers watching auditions in 1948 at the St. James Theatre.

Freedom From Religion Foundation