revised by Jonas Westover
(b New York, NY, Sept 8, 1896; d New York, NY, July 30, 1983). American lyricist and librettist. He studied at Columbia University, where he was a contemporary of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and served in the US Navy before becoming director of publicity and advertising in 1919 for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (from 1924 known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM). He wrote verse in his spare time, and was asked by Jerome Kern to supply the lyrics for Dear Sir (1924). He also worked with Vernon Duke, Jimmy McHugh, and Ralph Rainger. But he is best remembered for the numerous songs he wrote in collaboration with arthur Schwartz , beginning in 1929 with the revue The Little Show (with “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”). Other collaborations with Schwartz include Three’s a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931, containing the hit “Dancing in the Dark”). Their professional relationship extended over a period of more than 30 years to the production of the musical ...
Ellen Marie Peck
(b New York, NY, Jan 28, 1880; d New York, Jan 4, 1928). American lyricist, librettist, and actress. Born into a theatrical family, she spent her entire life in the theater. A meticulous actress, Donnelly was particularly known for her ability to interpret a role with depth and sensitivity at a rather young age, as she demonstrated with title roles in Candida (1903) and Madame X (1909). However, chronic illness and years of touring took an early toll on Donnelly, forcing her to transition to a writing career in her late 30s. In 1916 Donnelly penned the libretto for an Americanized German operetta, Flora Bella. She soon teamed up with composer sigmund Romberg , with whom she wrote some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s. Donnelly and Romberg enjoyed a close friendship and a symbiotic collaborative process, which lay behind the overwhelming success of ...
(b Dayton, OH, June 27, 1872; d Dayton, OH, Feb 9, 1906). American poet and lyricist. He was born into a family of former slaves, and although he had the opportunity to attend college through the generosity of white patrons, he decided to pursue a career as a poet and writer. After self-publishing his first collection of poems, he was invited to recite at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, where he met the composer Will Marion Cook. When he traveled to England in 1897 on a reading tour, he met the African-English composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who set eight of his poems in the song collection African Romances. In a little over a decade, Dunbar produced six collections of poems, four collections of short stories, four novels, three plays, and the lyrics and librettos for several works written in collaboration with Cook, including Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk...
(b New York, NY, c8 April 1928–33; d New York, NY, Sept 11, 2004). American lyricist. He received a BA from New York University and a master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University. In the 1950s he collaborated with Phil Springer and placed several song lyrics with record companies in the Brill Building. He also collaborated with Paul Klein on three musicals, one of which, Morning Sun, appeared Off-Broadway in 1963. Ebb’s first Broadway experience was as a contributor to the 1960 revue From A to Z.
He is best known for his work with john Kander , with whom he started working in 1962. Within months they had their first hit, “My Coloring Book,” which garnered them a Grammy nomination. Their collaboration lasted more than four decades and resulted in 13 Broadway musicals, including two produced after Ebb’s death. Their first, Flora, the Red Menace (...
Ronald J. Zank
(b Brooklyn, NY, June 6, 1954). American performer, playwright and librettist. Fierstein grew up in New York and worked as an actor; he also pursued his interest in painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was both lead actor and playwright for Torch Song Trilogy, which originated off-off Broadway before transferring to off-Broadway and finally to Broadway (1982). He wrote the libretto for the musical adaptation of the French play and film La Cage Aux Folles (1983, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), about a gay couple dealing with their son’s marriage into a conservative family. Fierstein also crafted the book for the short-lived Legs Diamond, a production that featured the songs and performance of Peter Allen as the title gangster. As a performer Fierstein originated the role of plus-sized mother Edna Turnblad in the musical ...
Judith A. Sebesta
(b Chicago, IL, Feb 25, 1928; d Beverly Hills, CA, Sept 11, 2009). American librettist. He began his prolific and diverse career at 16 writing for radio. After moving to television in the 1950s, he collaborated with such well-known early television actors as Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. His career in that medium peaked with M*A*S*H, for which he wrote the pilot and subsequently wrote, produced, and occasionally directed the hit series. His screenwriting credits include Tootsie (1982) and Oh, God! (1977), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. His librettos for A Funny Thing Happened on to the Way to the Forum (1962) and City of Angels (1989) both won Tony Awards. After Gelbart’s death from cancer in 2009, Jack Lemmon, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen all named him the best American comedy writer they had ever known....
(b New York, NY, Sept 9, 1911; d North Stratford, NH, Aug 8, 1972). American poet. A student of philosophy and literature at the City College of New York (BA 1931) and later at the University of Chicago (1936–40), he received the PhD with the publication of The Structure of Literature (1954). He held various teaching positions but became known principally as a social reformer, with interests ranging from city planning to psychotherapy. He was also innately musical, admiring Beethoven above all other composers, and something of a self-taught composer himself.
Goodman’s published writings include novels, short stories, biographies, plays, and social and literary criticism; he enjoyed particular recognition in the 1960s after the publication of Growing Up Absurd (1960). But it is probably as a poet that he will be remembered. The controlled sadness evident in his verse, as well as his invention of a convenient stanzaic form—the “little prayer” (two tetrametric quatrains, strophe and antistrophe, with ...
Lara E. Housez
(b Oceanside, NY, May 15, 1956). American composer, lyricist, librettist, pianist, and singer. After studying composition at Carnegie Mellon University, Gordon settled in New York, where he emerged as a leading writer of art song, chamber pieces, opera, and musical theater. Drawing on his own texts as well as those by Marie Howe, Langston Hughes, Tina Landau, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Dorothy Parker, among others, Gordon dramatizes complex and mature subject material with sophisticated musical means that often stretch beyond the traditional palette of popular and Broadway music. In 2007, he made his largest musical statement to date with The Grapes of Wrath, an ambitious full-scale opera in three acts with a libretto by Michael Korie based on John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Commissioned by Minnesota Opera and Utah Symphony and Opera and co-produced by Pittsburgh Opera and Houston Grand Opera, the work melds popular musical styles and forms of the 1920s and 30s, featuring guitar, banjo, saxophone, and harmonica, with the classical drama of grand opera. Gordon often twists the accessible sounds for critical effect. He has nine recordings devoted to his music, and a cast of such internationally acclaimed vocalists as Kristin Chenoweth, Renée Fleming, Audra McDonald, Frederica von Stade, and Dawn Upshaw have featured his songs on 19 other discs. His publications include: four songbooks, ...
(b New York, NY, Dec 2, 1914; d New York, NY, Oct 24, 2002). American lyricist, librettist, and actor. He sustained a lifelong writing partnership with Betty Comden. Among their joint works were the musicals Wonderful Town (1953) and Bells Are Ringing (1956), and the film script ...