Richard Rodgers

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Richard Rodgers
Rodgers at the St. James Theatre in 1948
Background information
Birth nameRichard Charles Rodgers
Born(1902-06-28)June 28, 1902
New York City, U.S.
DiedDecember 30, 1979(1979-12-30) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
Genres Musical theater
  • Composer
  • songwriter
  • playwright
Years active1919–1979
Education Columbia University (BA)
Juilliard School

Richard Charles Rodgers (June 28, 1902 – December 30, 1979) was an American composer who worked primarily in musical theater. With 43 Broadway musicals and over 900 songs to his credit, Rodgers was one of the most well-known American composers of the 20th century, and his compositions had a significant influence on popular music.


Rodgers is known for his songwriting partnerships, first with lyricist Lorenz Hart and then with Oscar Hammerstein II. With Hart he wrote musicals throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including Pal Joey , A Connecticut Yankee , On Your Toes and Babes in Arms. With Hammerstein he wrote musicals through the 1940s and 1950s, such as Oklahoma! , Flower Drum Song , Carousel , South Pacific , The King and I , and The Sound of Music . His collaborations with Hammerstein, in particular, are celebrated for bringing the Broadway musical to a new maturity by telling stories that were focused on characters and drama rather than the earlier light-hearted entertainment of the genre.

Rodgers was the first person to win all four of the top American entertainment awards in theater, film, recording, and television an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony  now known collectively as an EGOT. [1] In addition, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, making him the first ever to receive all five awards (later joined by Marvin Hamlisch). [2] In 1978, Rodgers was in the inaugural group of Kennedy Center Honorees for lifetime achievement in the arts. [3]

Early life

The poster for Fly With Me, the 1920 Columbia University Varsity Show. The music was co-written by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and also included songs by Oscar Hammerstein II, making the show one of the first collaborations between the two men. Fly With Me poster.jpg
The poster for Fly With Me , the 1920 Columbia University Varsity Show. The music was co-written by Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and also included songs by Oscar Hammerstein II, making the show one of the first collaborations between the two men.

Rodgers was born into a Jewish family in Queens, New York, the son of Mamie (Levy) and Dr. William Abrahams Rodgers, a prominent physician who had changed the family name from Rogazinsky. Rodgers began playing the piano at the age of six. He attended P.S. 166, Townsend Harris Hall and DeWitt Clinton High School. Rodgers spent his early teenage summers in Camp Wigwam (Waterford, Maine) where he composed some of his first songs. [5]

Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and later collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II all attended Columbia University. At Columbia, Rodgers joined the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. In 1921, Rodgers shifted his studies to the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School). [6] Rodgers was influenced by composers such as Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern, as well as by the operettas his parents took him to see on Broadway when he was a child.


Rodgers and Hart

Richard Rodgers (seated) with Lorenz Hart in 1936 Rodgers and Hart NYWTS.jpg
Richard Rodgers (seated) with Lorenz Hart in 1936

In 1919, Richard met Lorenz Hart, thanks to Phillip Levitt, a friend of Richard's older brother. Rodgers and Hart struggled for years in the field of musical comedy, writing several amateur shows. 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 the 1920 Poor Little Ritz Girl , which also had music by Sigmund Romberg. Their next professional show, The Melody Man, did not premiere until 1924.

When he was just out of college Rodgers worked as musical director for Lew Fields. Among the stars he accompanied were Nora Bayes and Fred Allen. [7] Rodgers was considering quitting show business altogether 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. Although it was meant to run only 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 during the first half of the 1930s, the team sought greener pastures in Hollywood. The hardworking Rodgers later regretted these relatively fallow years, but he and Hart did write some classic songs and film scores while out west, including Love Me Tonight (1932) (directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who would later direct Rodgers's Oklahoma! on Broadway), which introduced three standards: "Lover", "Mimi", and "Isn't It Romantic?". Rodgers also wrote a melody for which Hart wrote three consecutive lyrics which were either cut, not recorded or not a hit. The fourth lyric resulted in one of their most famous songs, "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 and wrote an almost unbroken string of hit shows that ended shortly before Hart's death 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 sung and remembered, including "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", "My Romance", "Little Girl Blue", "I'll Tell the Man in the Street", "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".

In 1939, Rodgers wrote the ballet Ghost Town for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with choreography by Marc Platoff. [8]

Rodgers and Hammerstein

Rodgers (seated) with Hammerstein, 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein at piano-original.jpg
Rodgers (seated) with Hammerstein, 1945

Rodgers' partnership with Hart began having problems because of the lyricist's unreliability and declining health from alcoholism. Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II, with whom he had previously written songs (before ever working with Lorenz Hart). Their first musical, the groundbreaking hit Oklahoma! (1943), is a notable example of a "book musical", a musical play in which the songs and dances are fully integrated into the plot. What was once a collection of songs, dances and comic turns held together by a tenuous plot became a fully integrated narrative. Even though Show Boat is considered to be the earliest example of a book musical, Oklahoma! epitomized the innovations for which Show Boat had laid the groundwork and is considered the first production in American history to be intentionally marketed as a fully integrated musical. [9]

In 1943, Richard Rodgers became the ninth president of the Dramatists Guild of America. In November that year he and Hart mounted a revival of A Connecticut Yankee ; Hard died from alcoholism and pneumonia just days after its opening.

Rogers and Hammerstein went on to create four more hits that are among the most popular in musical history. Each was made into a successful film: Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949, winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), 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 film State Fair (1945) (which was remade in 1962 with Pat Boone) and a special TV musical of Cinderella (1957).

Their collaboration produced many well-known songs, including "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'", "People Will Say We're in Love", "Oklahoma" (which also became the state song of Oklahoma), "It's A Grand Night For Singing", "If I Loved You", "You'll Never Walk Alone", "It Might as Well Be Spring", "Some Enchanted Evening", "Younger Than Springtime", "Bali Hai", "Getting to Know You", "My Favorite Things", "The Sound of Music", "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Do-Re-Mi", and "Edelweiss", Hammerstein's last song.

Rodgers was the subject of a two-part special on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town television show in 1952 Richard Rodgers Ed Sullivan 1952.JPG
Rodgers was the subject of a two-part special on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town television show in 1952

Much of Rodgers' work with both Hart and Hammerstein was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. Rodgers composed twelve themes, which Bennett used in preparing the orchestra score for the 26-episode World War II television documentary Victory at Sea (1952–53). This NBC production pioneered the "compilation documentary"—programming based on pre-existing footage—and was eventually broadcast in dozens of countries. The melody of the popular song "No Other Love" was later taken from the Victory at Sea theme entitled "Beneath the Southern Cross". Rodgers won an Emmy for the music for the ABC documentary Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years , scored by Eddie Sauter, Hershy Kay, and Robert Emmett Dolan. Rodgers composed the theme music, "March of the Clowns", for the 1963–64 television series The Greatest Show on Earth , which ran for 30 episodes. He also contributed the main title theme for the 1963–64 historical anthology television series The Great Adventure.

In 1950, 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." Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Joshua Logan won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for South Pacific. [10] Rodgers and Hammerstein had won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Oklahoma!. [11]

In 1954, Rodgers conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in excerpts from Victory at Sea, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and the Carousel Waltz for a special LP released by Columbia Records.

Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 37 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.

After Hammerstein

Rodgers composed five new musicals between Hammerstein's death in 1960 and his own in 1979. In chronological order, they are: No Strings (1962), Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965), Two by Two (1970), Rex (1976), and I Remember Mama (1979). [12]

Rodgers wrote both words and music for his first new Broadway project No Strings, which earned two Tony Awards and played 580 shows. The show was a minor hit and featured the song, "The Sweetest Sounds".

Rodgers also wrote both the words and music for two new songs used in the film version of The Sound of Music. (Other songs in that film were from Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

Each of his final Broadway musicals faced a declining level of success as Rodgers was overshadowed by up and coming composers and lyricists. This was evident by the steady drop in run times and critic reviews. Do I Hear a Waltz? ran 220 performances;Two by Two, 343 performances; Rex only 49 performances; and I Remember Mama, 108 performances. [12]

While Rodgers went on to work with lyricists: Stephen Sondheim (Do I Hear a Waltz?), who was a protégé of Hammerstein, Martin Charnin (Two by Two,I Remember Mama) and Sheldon Harnick (Rex), he never found another permanent partner. These partnerships proved to be unsuccessful as a result of issues of collaboration. Sondheim's reluctance to participate in Do I Hear a Waltz? led to tension between the two. In addition, Charnin and Rodgers were met with opposing ideas when creating Two by Two. [12]

Nevertheless, his overall successful lifetime career did not go unrecognized. At its 1978 commencement ceremonies, Barnard College awarded Rodgers its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.

Rodgers was an honoree at the first Kennedy Center Honors in 1978. At the 1979 Tony Awards ceremony—six months before his death—Rodgers was presented the Lawrence Langner Memorial Award for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in the American Theatre.

One of Rodger's final works was a revival of Fly With Me for the 1980 Varsity Show, to which he added several new songs. He died less than four months before its premiere in April 1980. [4]

Personal life

In 1930, Rodgers married Dorothy Belle Feiner (1909–92). [13] Their daughter, Mary (1931–2014), was the composer of Once Upon a Mattress and an author of children's books. [14] The Rodgers later lost a daughter at birth. Another daughter, Linda (1935–2015), also had a brief career as a songwriter. Mary's son and Richard Rodgers's grandson, Adam Guettel (b. 1964), also a musical theater composer, won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for The Light in the Piazza in 2005. Peter Melnick (b. 1958), Linda Rodgers's son, is the composer of Adrift In Macao, which debuted at the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2005 and was produced Off-Broadway in 2007. Mary Rodgers' book Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers was published posthumously in 2022, and included her frank revelations and assessments of her father, family and herself. [15]

Rodgers was an atheist. [16] He was prone to depression and alcohol abuse and was at one time hospitalized.

Rodgers was portrayed by Tom Drake in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film Words and Music, a semi-fictionalized depiction of the partnership of Rodgers and Hart.


Rodgers died in 1979, aged 77, after surviving cancer of the jaw, a heart attack, and a laryngectomy. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at sea.


In 1990, the 46th Street Theatre was renamed the Richard Rodgers Theatre in his memory. In 1999, Rodgers and Hart were each commemorated on United States postage stamps. In 2002, the centennial year of Rodgers' birth was celebrated worldwide with books, retrospectives, performances, new recordings of his music, and a Broadway revival of Oklahoma!. The BBC Proms that year devoted an entire evening to Rodgers' music, including a concert performance of Oklahoma! The Boston Pops Orchestra released a new CD that year in tribute to Rodgers, entitled My Favorite Things: A Richard Rodgers Celebration.

Alec Wilder wrote the following about 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 ... [A]fter spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished. [17]

Rodgers is a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame. [18]

Along with the Academy of Arts and Letters, Rodgers also started and endowed an award for non-established musical theater composers to produce new productions either by way of full productions or staged readings. It is the only award for which the Academy of Arts and Letters accepts applications and is presented every year. Below are the previous winners of the award: [19]

2018 [20] Gun and PowderRoss Baum
Angelica Chéri
KPOPJason Kim
Helen Park
Max Vernon
Woodshed Collective
2017What I Learned from People Will Aronson
Hue Park
2016We Live in CairoPatrick Lazour
Daniel Lazour
Costs of Living Timothy Huang
Hadestown Anaïs Mitchell
2015StringAdam Gwon
Sarah Hammond
2014 Witness Uganda Matthew Gould
Griffin Matthews
2013 Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 Dave Malloy
The Kid Who Would Be PopeTom Megan
Jack Megan
2012 Witness Uganda Matthew Gould
Griffin Matthews
2011 Dogfight Peter Duchan
Benj Pasek
Justin Paul
Gloryana Andrew Gerle
2010Buddy's Tavern Raymond De Felitta
Alison Louise Hubbard
Kim Oler
Rocket SciencePatricia Cotter
Jason Rhyne
Stephen Weiner
2009Cheer WarsKarlan Judd
Gordon Leary
Rosa ParksScott Ethier
Jeff Hughes
2008Alive at TenKirsten A. Guenther
Ryan Scott Oliver
KingdomAaron Jafferis
Ian Williams
See Rock City and Other Destinations Brad Alexander
Adam Mathias
2007 Calvin Berger Barry Wyner
Main-Travelled RoadsDave Hudson
Paul Libman
2006 Grey Gardens Scott Frankel
Michael Korie
Doug Wright
True FansChris Miller
Bill Rosenfield
Nathan Tysen
Yellow WoodMichelle Elliott
Danny Larsen
2005BroadcastNathan Christensen
Scott Murphy
Dust & Dreams: Celebrating SandburgDavid Hudson
Paul Libman
Red Brian Lowdermilk
Marcus Stevens
2004To Paint the EarthDaniel Frederick Levin
Jonathan Portera
The Tutor Andrew Gerle
Maryrose Wood
Unlocked Sam Carner
Derek Gregor
2003The Devil in the FleshJeffrey Lunden
Arthur Perlman
Once Upon a Time in New JerseySusan DiLallo
Stephen A. Weiner
The TutorAndrew Gerle
Maryrose Wood
2002The FabulistDavid Spencer
Stephen Witkin
The TutorAndrew Gerle
Maryrose Wood
2001Heading East Leon Ko
Robert Lee
The Spitfire Grill Fred Alley
James Valcq
2000 Bat Boy Kaythe Farley
Brian Flemming
Laurence O'Keefe
The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin Kirsten Childs
SuburbRobert S. Cohen
David Javerbaum
1999 Bat Boy Kaythe Farley
Brian Flemming
Laurence O'Keefe
Blood on the Dining Room FloorJonathan Sheffer
The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon SkinKirsten Childs
Dream True: My Life with Vernon Dexter Ricky Ian Gordon
Tina Landau
The Singing Lenora Champagne
Daniel Levy
1998 Little Women Alison Hubbard
Allan Knee
Kim Oler
SummerErik Haagensen
Paul Schwartz
1997The Ballad of Little Jo Mike Reid
Sarah Schlesinger
Barrio BabiesFernand Rivas
Luis Santeiro
Violet Brian Crawley
Jeanine Tesori
1996Bobos James McBride
Ed Shockley
The Hidden SkyKate Chisholm
Peter Foley
The Princess & the BlacAndy Chuckerman
Karole Foreman
1995SpendoraMark Campbell
Stephen Hoffman
Peter Webb
1994Doll (not produced) Scott Frankel
Michael Korie
The Gig Douglas Cohen
Rent Jonathan Larson
The Sweet Revenge of ...Mark Campbell
Burton Cohen
Stephen Hoffman
1993Allos Makar Scott Frankel
Michael Korie
Valeria Vasilevsky
Avenue XJohn Jiler
Ray Leslee
Christina Alberta'sPolly Pen
They Shoot Horses ...Nagle Jackson
Robert Sprayberry
1992Avenue XJohn Jiler
Ray Leslee
The Molly MaquiresSid Cherry
William Strempek
1991OpalRobert N. Lindsey
The Times Joe Keenan
Brad Ross
1990Down the StreamMichael Goldenberg
Swamp Gas and Shallow FeelingsRandy Buck
Shirlee Strother
Jack E. Williams
WhatnotHoward Crabtree
Dick Gallagher
Mark Waldrop
1989 Juan Darien Elliot Goldenthal
Julie Taymor
1988 Lucky Stiff Lynn Ahrens
Stephen Flaherty
Sheila Levine is Dead ...Michael Devon
Todd Graff
Superbia Jonathan Larson
1987Henry and Ellen Michael John LaChiusa
Lucky Stiff Lynn Ahrens
Stephen Flaherty
No Way to Treat A Lady Douglas J. Cohen
1986Break/Agnes/Eulogy Michael John LaChiusa
JubaWendy Lamb
Russell Walden
1984 Brownstone Andrew Cadiff
Peter Larson
Josh Rubens
PapushkoAndrew Teirstein
1982Portrait of JennieEnid Futterman
Howard Marren
Dennis Rosa
1981Child of the SunDamien Leake
1980Nine (not produced)Maro Fratti
Maury Yeston

Relationship with performers

Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Helen Tamiris watching hopefuls who are being auditioned on stage of the St. James Theatre. Rodgers and Hammerstein and Berlin and Tamiris NYWTS.jpg
Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Helen Tamiris watching hopefuls who are being auditioned on stage of the St. James Theatre.

Rosemary Clooney recorded a version of "Falling in Love with Love" by Rodgers, using a swing style. After the recording session Richard Rodgers told her pointedly that it should be sung as a waltz. [21] The 1961 doo-wop arrangement of the Rodgers and Hart song "Blue Moon" by The Marcels so incensed Rodgers that he took out full-page newspaper ads urging people not to buy it. His efforts were unsuccessful as it reached #1 on the charts. [22] After Doris Day recorded "I Have Dreamed" in 1961, he wrote to her and her arranger, Jim Harbert, that theirs was the most beautiful rendition of his song he had ever heard.

After Peggy Lee recorded her version of "Lover", a Rodgers song, with a dramatically different arrangement from that originally conceived by him, Rodgers said, "I don't know why Peggy picked on me, she could have fucked up Silent Night". [23] Mary Martin said that Richard Rodgers composed songs for her for South Pacific, knowing she had a small vocal range, and the songs generally made her look her best. She also said that Rodgers and Hammerstein listened to all her suggestions and she worked extremely well with them. [24] Both Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted Doris Day for the lead in the film version of South Pacific and she reportedly wanted the part. They discussed it with her, but after her manager/husband Martin Melcher would not budge on his demand for a high salary for her, the role went to Mitzi Gaynor.

Awards and nominations

Rodgers is the first entertainer to have won the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony).

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResultsRef.
1945 Academy Awards Best Song "It Might as Well Be Spring" (from State Fair )Won [25]
1958 Grammy Awards Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV) Flower Drum Song Nominated [26]
Victory at Sea: Vol II Nominated
Best Musical Composition First Recorded and Released in 1958 (Over 5 Minutes Duration) Nominated
1960 Best Show Album (Original Cast) The Sound of Music Won
1962 Song of the Year "The Sweetest Sounds"Nominated
Best Original Cast Show Album No Strings Won
1965 Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album Do I Hear a Waltz? Nominated
1971 Two by Two Nominated
1976 Best Cast Show Album Rex Nominated
1989 Trustees Award Won [27]
1978 Kennedy Center Honors Honored [28]
1958 Primetime Emmy Awards Best Musical Contribution for Television Cinderella Nominated [29]
1962 Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composed for Television Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years Won
1944 Pulitzer Prize Special Citations and Awards Oklahoma! Won [30]
1950 Drama South Pacific Won [31]
1950 Tony Awards Best Musical Won [32]
Producers (Musical)Won
Best Score Won
1952 Best Musical The King and I Won [33]
1956 Pipe Dream Nominated [34]
1959 Flower Drum SongNominated [35]
1960 The Sound of MusicWon [lower-alpha 1] [36]
1962 No StringsNominated [37]
Best Composer Won
Special Tony Award Won [38]
1965 Best Composer and Lyricist Do I Hear a Waltz?Nominated [39]
1972 Special Tony AwardWon [40]
1979 Lawrence Langner Memorial Award Won [41]
1996 Best Original Score State Fair Nominated [42]

Shows with music by Rodgers

Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Other lyricists and solo works


  1. Tied with Fiorello! .

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Varsity Show</span> Tradition at Columbia University

The Varsity Show is one of the oldest traditions at Columbia University. Founded in 1893 as a fundraiser for the university's fledgling athletic teams, the Varsity Show now draws together the entire Columbia undergraduate community for a series of performances every April. Dedicated to producing a unique full-length musical that skewers and satirizes many dubious aspects of life at Columbia, the Varsity Show is written and performed exclusively by university undergraduates. Various renowned playwrights, composers, authors, directors, and actors have contributed to the Varsity Show, either as writers or performers, while students at Columbia, including Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Herman J. Mankiewicz, I. A. L. Diamond, Herman Wouk, Greta Gerwig, and Kate McKinnon.

<i>Two by Two</i> (musical) Musical

Two By Two is a Broadway musical with a book by Peter Stone, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and music by Richard Rodgers.


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Further reading