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Rodgers, Richard (Charles)free

  • Geoffrey Block

(b Hammels Station, Long Island, NY, June 28, 1902; d New York, Dec 30, 1979). American composer. He was the second son of Dr William A. Rodgers (originally Rogazinsky) and Mamie Levy, Russian Jews who had emigrated to the United States in 1860 and married in 1896. His father was an enthusiastic amateur who enjoyed singing the latest Broadway tunes accompanied on the piano by his wife. Richard showed early talent on the piano but resisted lessons, preferring to play by ear. In 1916, at the age of 14, he composed two songs at Camp Wigwam, Harrison, Maine, and the following year copyrighted his first song, ‘Auto Show Girl’. Also in 1917 Rodgers completed the music and some lyrics for his first musical, One Minute, Please, the first of 14 amateur shows composed over the next eight years. Late in 1918 or early 1919 he was introduced to lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895–1943), who shared Rodgers’s appreciation of Jerome Kern and was looking for a composer. In a frequently quoted remark from his autobiography, Rodgers remembered that he ‘left Hart’s house having acquired in one afternoon a career, a partner, a best friend, and a source of permanent irritation’. After directing the reopening of Rodgers’s next amateur show, Hart contributed lyrics to most of the remaining amateur productions and for the next 24 years would become Rodgers’s exclusive creative partner for 26 Broadway shows and nine films.

Within months of meeting, their song ‘Any Old Place with You’ was interpolated in A Lonely Romeo (1919), and several songs appeared in Poor Little Ritz Girl (1920). The next five years, however, were discouraging. Although they produced successful amateur Varsity Shows at Columbia University (which Rodgers attended from 1919 to 1921) and three shows at the Institute of Musical Art where Rodgers was studying theory and harmony with Percy Goetschius, their professional début with The Melody Man in 1924 was unsuccessful. When Rodgers was on the verge of abandoning Broadway to become a babies’ underwear salesman, he received an invitation to compose some songs with Hart for a Theatre Guild fund-raising project. The resulting revue, The Garrick Gaieties (1925), a clever parody of popular contemporary plays and performers, was a great success, much of which was credited to the songs, especially ‘Manhattan’ from the unproduced Winkle Town (1922). Following this, Rodgers and Hart were able to produce a previously composed professional book musical, Dearest Enemy (1925), the first of many hit shows on Broadway with librettist Herbert Fields, in addition to several London successes over the next three years. Even with their considerable musical and dramatic strengths and frequent innovations, these early shows are virtually never revived. Nevertheless, the early hits as well as the modest successes and failures that followed A Connecticut Yankee (1927), have left a major legacy of perennial song favourites.

From 1931 to 1935 Rodgers and Hart spent most of their creative energies in Hollywood. Despite relatively limited productivity compared to their Broadway output, they produced three memorable film musicals (Love Me Tonight – and The Phantom President, both 1932, and Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, 1933), numerous isolated songs for popular film stars, and one unused song that became their major hit not associated with a show or a film, ‘Blue Moon’ (1934). In particular, Love Me Tonight – directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the future director of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1935) and Rodgers’s first two musicals with Oscar Hammerstein (1895–1960), Oklahoma! (1943) and Carousel (1945) – is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most innovative as well as tuneful film musicals. The film also introduced in ‘Lover’ what would become a personal trademark, the Rodgers waltz, eventually to include ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ from Jumbo (1935) and ‘Falling in Love with Love’ from The Boys from Syracuse (1938) with Hart, a waltz standard in almost every show between Oklahoma! (‘Out of My Dreams’) and The Sound of Music (‘Edelweiss’) with Hammerstein, and the title song from Do I Hear a Waltz? composed with Hammerstein’s protégé Stephen Sondheim.

The return of Rodgers and Hart to Broadway with Jumbo inaugurated, first with Hart and then with Hammerstein, perhaps the most remarkable 15-year period of sustained artistic, popular, and financial success ever experienced by a Broadway composer. During the next eight years Rodgers and Hart had few rivals as they produced nine musicals, mostly hits. Of these, five had librettos by or were directed by George Abbott, four had choreography by George Balanchine, and three were directed by Joshua Logan. In addition to the many songs that would establish lives of their own – there are five standards alone in Babes in Arms (1937) – several shows have proven to be revivable, albeit with new books, including On Your Toes (1936), with its two full-length ballets staged by Balanchine, and The Boys from Syracuse, the first important Broadway musical adapted from Shakespeare. In its original form, Pal Joey (1940), with its unsavoury adult themes and its shiftless hell of a protagonist, is widely regarded as a major milestone in the development of the genre.

After a successful final show, By Jupiter (1942), Hart, increasingly incapacitated by alcoholism and other personal problems, was unable and unwilling to collaborate on a new Theatre Guild property, Oklahoma! (1943, 1979; London, 1947, 1998), and Rodgers joined creative forces with Hammerstein, with whom he had previously composed two amateur songs in 1919, also the year he began to work with Hart. In addition to its record-breaking run of 2212 performances, Oklahoma! launched a new Broadway era of thoughtful and convention-shattering musicals, with well-constructed central plots, imaginative and sometimes serious subplots, credible stories populated with believable and complex characters who spoke in an authentic vernacular, and songs and ballets that advanced the action. For the next two decades musicals were to be measured against the Rodgers and Hammerstein model of the ‘integrated’ musical, in which the various disparate dramatic components were united to the integrity of the whole. Rodgers’s well-crafted songs to Hart’s bittersweet and occasionally acerbic lyrics with rare exceptions demonstrated craft, originality, and an extraordinarily varied range of song styles, ranging from the jazzy ‘Johnny One Note’ to romantic ballads like ‘My Heart Stood Still’. Although Rodgers’s songs with Hammerstein continued to achieve independent popularity outside of their dramatic contexts, the songs themselves became less influenced by the jazz vernacular styles and favoured more complex and continuous forms over the more conventional 32-bar song patterns he had typically used with Hart.

In any event, Rodgers and Hammerstein shows became increasingly more important than individual songs, and during the first eight years of their collaboration, they created four of their five major international successes (Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I, and the successful film musical State Fair). Also during these years with Hammerstein, Rodgers produced many successful and profitable plays, including John Van Druten’s I Remember Mama (1944), Anita Loos’s Happy Birthday (1946) and Samuel Taylor’s The Happy Time (1950), a successful revival of Kern and Hammerstein’s classic musical Show Boat (1946), and the première of a rare non-Rodgers and Hammerstein musical hit during this period, Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun (1946). Original musicals such as Allegro (1947) and later Me and Juliet (1953) were less critically and popularly successful, and Pipe Dream (based on John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday) became their first adaptation to fail financially. After a successful televised broadcast of Cinderella (1957), a modestly successful stage musical, Flower Drum Song (1958), and a fifth international hit, The Sound of Music (1959, 1998), Hammerstein died of cancer. Rodgers, once again without a collaborator, became his own lyricist as well as the composer of one last successful show, No Strings (1962).

Final collaborations with the lyricists Stephen Sondheim for Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965), Martin Charnin for Two By Two (1970) and I Remember Mama (1979), and Sheldon Harnick for Rex (1976), were marred by conflicts with collaborators and actors, shorter runs, and his own diminished artistry. He was also beset by health problems, including cancer of the jaw. The legacy of Rodgers and Hammerstein, however, continued to flower during these years when the filmed version of The Sound of Music (1965) became a huge international success. After the quick demise of I Remember Mama, his 40th new musical in 54 years, a brilliant revival of Oklahoma! on Broadway began three weeks before his death. He was survived by his wife Dorothy, whom he had married on 5 March 1930, and two daughters, Mary and Linda. Mary Rodgers (b New York, 11 Jan 1931), composed Once Upon a Mattress (1959), originally an off-Broadway musical that has enjoyed considerable international success, including a major New York revival in 1997.


(selective list)


The Rodgers and Hart Songbook (New York, 1951)

The Rodgers and Hammerstein Songbook (New York, 1958, 2/1968)

Rodgers and Hammerstein Revisited (New York, c1968)

Rodgers and Hart: a Musical Anthology (Milwaukee, 1984)

The Richard Rodgers Collection (New York, 1990)

Rediscovered Rodgers and Hart (Secaucus, NJ, 1992)

Rodgers and Hammerstein Rediscovered (New York, c1990)

LH L. Hart OH O. Hammerstein II


only professional productions are listed

unless otherwise stated, all works are musicals and dates are those of first New York performance; where different, writers given as (lyricist; book author); principal orchestrators only are given

Fly with Me (LH), 1919, vs

Poor Little Ritz Girl (LH; G. Campbell and L. Fields), 28 July 1920, collab. S. Romberg

The Melody Man (play, H. Fields, Rodgers and LH [under pseud. H.R. Lorenz]), 13 May 1924

film 1930

Garrick Gaieties (revue, LH), 17 May 1925 [incl. Manhattan]

Dearest Enemy (LH; H. Fields), orchd E. Gerstenberger, 18 Sept 1925 [incl. Bye and Bye, Here in my Arms]

The Girl Friend (LH; H. Fields), orchd M. de Packh, 17 March 1926 [incl. The Blue Room, The Girl Friend]

Garrick Gaieties (revue, LH), 10 May 1926 [incl. Mountain Greenery]

Lido Lady (LH; G. Bolton, B. Kalmar, H. Ruby and R. Jeans), London, 1 Dec 1926

Peggy-Ann (LH; H. Fields), orchd R. Webb, 27 Dec 1926

Betsy (LH; I. Caesar, D. Freedman and W.A. McGuire), 28 Dec 1926

One Dam Thing after Another (revue, LH; Jeans), London, 19 May 1927

A Connecticut Yankee (LH; H. Fields), 3 Nov 1927 [incl. My heart stood still, Thou Swell]

She’s my Baby (LH; Bolton, Kalmar and Ruby; LH), 3 Jan 1928

Present Arms (LH; H. Fields), 26 April 1928

film as Leathernecking, 1930

Chee-Chee (LH; H. Fields), orchd Webb, 25 Sept 1928

Spring is Here (LH; O. Davis), 11 March 1929 [incl. With a Song in my Heart]

film, 1930

Heads Up! (LH; J. McGowan and P.G. Smith), orchd R.R. Bennett, 11 Nov 1929

film, 1930

Simple Simon (E. Wynn, Bolton and LH), 18 Feb 1930 [incl. Ten Cents a Dance]

Evergreen (LH; B.W. Levy), London, 3 Dec 1930 [incl. Dancing on the Ceiling]

film, 1934

America’s Sweetheart (LH; H. Fields), orchd Bennett, 10 Feb 1931 [incl. I’ve got five dollars]

Jumbo (LH; B. Hecht and C. MacArthur), orchd A. Deutsch and H. Spialek, 16 Nov 1935 [incl. Little Girl Blue, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, My Romance]

film, 1962

On your Toes (LH; Rodgers, LH and G. Abbott), orchd Spialek, 11 April 1936, [incl. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, There’s a small hotel]

film, 1939

Babes in Arms (LH; Rodgers and LH), orchd Spialek, 14 April 1937, vs [incl. I wish I were in love again; Johnny One Note, The lady is a tramp, My Funny Valentine, Where or When]

film, 1939

I’d Rather be Right (LH; G.S. Kaufman and M. Hart), orchd Spialek, 2 Nov 1937

I Married an Angel (LH; Rodgers and LH), orchd Spialek, 11 May 1938 [incl. I married an angel, Spring is here]

film, 1942

The Boys from Syracuse (LH; Abbott, after Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors), orchd Spialek, 23 Nov 1938, vs [incl. Falling in Love with Love, This can’t be love]

film, 1940

Too Many Girls (LH; G. Marion jr), orchd Spialek, 18 Oct 1939 [incl. I didn’t know what time it was]

film, 1940

Higher and Higher (LH; G. Hurlbut and J. Logan), 4 April 1940 [incl. It never entered my mind]

film, 1943

Pal Joey (LH; J. O’Hara), orchd Spialek, 25 Dec 1940 [incl. Bewitched]

film, 1957

By Jupiter (LH; Rodgers and LH), orchd D. Walker, 2 June 1942 [incl. Ev’rything I’ve Got]

Oklahoma! (OH, after L. Riggs: Green Grow the Lilacs), orchd Bennett, 31 March 1943, vs [incl. Oh, what a beautiful mornin’, Oklahoma, People will say we’re in love, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top]

film, 1955

Carousel (OH, after F. Molnar: Liliom), orchd Walker, 19 April 1945, vs [incl. If I Loved You, June is bustin’ out all over, You’ll never walk alone]

film, 1956

Allegro (OH), orchd Bennett, 10 Oct 1947, vs [incl. A fellow needs a girl, So Far]

South Pacific (OH; OH and J. Logan, after J.A. Michener: Tales of the South Pacific), orchd Bennett, 7 April 1949, vs [incl. Bali Ha’i, I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair, Some Enchanted Evening, There is nothin’ like a dame, A Wonderful Guy, Younger than Springtime]

film, 1958

The King and I (OH, after M. Landon: Anna and the King of Siam), orchd Bennett, 29 March 1951, vs [incl. Getting to Know You, Hello, young lovers, I have dreamed, I whistle a happy tune, Shall we dance, Something Wonderful, We kiss in a shadow]

film, 1956

Me and Juliet (OH), orchd Walker, 28 May 1953 [incl. No Other Love]

Pipe Dream (OH, after J. Steinbeck: Sweet Thursday), orchd Bennett, 30 Nov 1955, vs [incl. All at once you love her]

Flower Drum Song (OH; J. Fields and OH, after C.Y. Lee), orchd Bennett, 1 Dec 1958, vs [incl. I enjoy being a girl, Love look away, You are beautiful]

film, 1961

The Sound of Music (OH; H. Lindsay and R. Crouse, after M.A. Trapp: The Trapp Family Singers), orchd Bennett, 16 Nov 1959, vs [incl. Climb ev’ry mountain, Do-Re-Mi, Edelweiss, My Favorite Things, The Sound of Music]

film 1965

No Strings (Rodgers; S. Taylor), orchd R. Burns, 15 March 1962, vs [incl. No Strings, The Sweetest Sounds]

Do I Hear a Waltz? (S. Sondheim; A. Laurents), orchd Burns, 18 March 1965, vs [incl. Do I hear a waltz?]

Two by Two (M. Charnin; P. Stone, after C. Odets: The Flowering Peach), orchd E. Sauter, 10 Nov 1970, vs

Rex (S. Harnick; S. Yellen), orchd I. Kostal, 25 April 1976

I Remember Mama (Charnin and R. Jessell; T. Meehan after T. Van Druten and K. Forbes: Mama’s Bank Account), orchd P.J. Lang, 31 May 1979

Songs for other stage works, incl. Any Old Place with You (LH), 1919

You are so lovely and I’m so lonely (LH), 1935

Rhythm (LH), 1936

I haven’t got a worry in the world (OH), 1948

Other works

Films (only orig. scores)

The Hot Heiress (LH), 1931

Love me Tonight (LH), 1932 [incl. Mimi, Isn’t it romantic?]

The Phantom President (LH), 1932

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (LH), 1933

Hollywood Party (LH), collab. W. Donaldson and N.H. Brown, 1934

Mississippi (LH), 1935

Dancing Pirate (LH), 1936

Fools for Scandal (LH), 1938

They Met in Argentina (LH), 1941

6 songs in State Fair (OH), orchd E. Powell, 1945 [incl. It might as well be spring, It’s a grand night for singing]

Words and Music (LH), orchd C. Salinger, 1948

Television musicals

Cinderella (OH, after C. Perrault), orchd Bennett, 31 March 1957

Androcles and the Lion (Rodgers, after G.B. Shaw), 1967

Songs (for other stage works), incl.

Any old place with you (LH), 1919

You are so lovely and I’m so lonely (LH), 1935

Rhythm (LH), 1936

I haven’t got a worry in the world (OH), 1948


All Points West (LH), 1v, orch, orchd A. Deutsch, 1936

Nursery Ballet, pf, orchd R. Bargy, 1938

Ghost Town (ballet), orchd H. Spialek, 1939

Victory at Sea (suite), orchd R.R. Bennett, 1952

Winston Churchill, the Valiant Years (television series), orchd R.E. Dolan, H. Kay and E. Sauter, 1960


Source material and catalogues
  • Manuscripts: Richard Rodgers Collection, US–Wc
  • Correspondence: Billy Rose Theatre Collection, US-NYp
  • Reminiscences: Oral History Collection, 1968, US-NYcu
  • Papers of Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan, US-Wc
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein Fact Book (New York, 1955, rev. 1980 by S. Green)
  • D. Hummel: The Collectors Guide to the American Musical Theatre (Metuchen, NJ, 1984)
  • W.W. Appleton, ed.: Richard Rodgers: Letters to Dorothy, 1926–1937 (New York,1988
  • T. Krasner and R. Kimball: Catalog of the American Musical (Washington, 1988)
  • S. Suskin: Berlin, Kern, Hart and Hammerstein: a Complete Song Catalogue(Jefferson, NC, 1990)
  • M.E. Horowitz, ed.: The Richard Rodgers Collection (Washington, 1995) [guide to US-Wc collection]
Autobiography and biography
  • L. Langher: The Magic Curtain (New York, 1951)
  • A. de Mille: Dance to the Piper (New York, 1952)
  • A. de Mille: And Promenade Home (New York, 1956)
  • D. Ewen: Richard Rodgers (New York, 1957, 2/1963 as With a Song in his Heart)
  • G. Abbott: Mister Abbott (New York, 1963)
  • R. Rodgers: Musical Stages (New York, 1975/R)
  • J. Logan: Josh: My Up and Down, In and Out Life (New York, 1976)
  • M. Martin: My Heart Belongs to Daddy (New York, 1976)
  • S. Marx and J. Clayton: Rodgers and Hart: Bewitched, Bothered and Bedeviled (New York,1976)
  • H. Fordin: Getting to Know Him: a Biography of Oscar Hammerstein II (New York, 1977)
  • F. Nolan: The Sound of Their Music: the Story of Rodgers and Hammerstein(New York, 1978)
  • F. Nolan: Lorenz Hart (New York, 1994)
  • W.G. Hyland: Richard Rodgers (New Haven, CT, 1988)
Critical studies
  • M. Kaye: Richard Rodgers: a Comparative Melody Analysis of his Songs with Hart and Hammerstein Lyrics (diss., New York U., 1969)
  • R.J. Kislan: Nine Musical Plays of Rodgers and Hammerstein: a Critical Study in Content and Form (diss., New York, U., 1970)
  • A. Wilder: American Popular Song: the Great Innovators, 1900–1950(New York, 1972)
  • G. Bordman: American Musical Theatre: a Chronicle (New York, 1978, expanded 1986, 2/1992)
  • P. Furia: The Poets of Tin Pan Alley (New York, 1990)
  • J.P. Swain: The Broadway Musical: a Critical and Musical Survey (New York,1990)
  • E. Mordden: Rodgers and Hammerstein (New York, 1992)
  • S. Citron: The Wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Alan Jay Lerner (New York, 1995)
  • A. Forte: The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era 1924–1950(Princeton, NJ, 1995), 177–208
  • G. Block: Enchanted Evenings: the Broadway Musical from ‘Show Boat’ to Sondheim (New York, 1997), 85–114, 329–30, 334

See also

Musical, §5(i): 1960–2000: History

Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Music Division
New York, Public Library at Lincoln Center, Music Division
New York, Columbia University, Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library