Saturday, January 27, 2007

Today would have been the birthday of one of the greatest songwriters of all time: This man was Jerome Kern. Jerome Kern was born in New York City in 1885 and loved music from the very beginning. His father pressured him to go into business with him and only a costly mistake saved the great composer for us and all the world. One day Kern was ordering pianos from an Italian merchant at the age of eighteen in 1903. Instead of ordering TWO pianos as he was supposed to, he ordered TWO HUNDRED pianos. The action almost put his poor merchant father out of business altogether and established The Steinway Piano company. It was decided by both father and son after this mistake that Kern was not going to be a successful buyer in his father's mercantile business. So with one mistake, in one felt swoop, a song writing career was born and a great piano company was established.
The 1910s were a productive and noteworthy period for Kern. He married an English woman, Eva Leale, in 1910 and in 1914 had his first hit, "The Girl from Utah" -- another adaptation of a British show. In 1915 Kern began writing musicals for the Princess Theatre in New York. These productions, "Nobody Home," "Very Good Eddie," "Oh Boy!," and "Oh Lady! Lady!!," were distinguished by a new approach to musical theater, developed by Kern in collaboration with librettist Guy Bolton, and, beginning in 1917, the talents of lyricist P. G. Wodehouse.The musical revue format, with unrelated numbers strung together, was replaced by a more coherent story, more sophisticated songs, and characters that were more believable and realistic. The transformation of the Broadway musical did not happen overnight, however, and Kern also wrote the music for more conventional shows, including "Leave It to Jane," "Sally," which included the popular "Look for the Silver Lining," and "Sunny."Kern wrote his most important work, "Show Boat" " in 1927 with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The production, which included the songs "Ol' Man River," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and "Make Believe," is notable for the richness of its music and its influence on other Broadway composers, who saw it as a model of writing for the musical stage. Today some believe it reflects racist attitudes; protesters tried to ban a 1993 revival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but the production went on to great success and re-opened on Broadway in 1994.A close examination of "Show Boat" reveals that it is actually quite progressive for a show that was written in 1927. The plot, involving a woman who is prohibited from performing on the show boat because she is bi-racial and is married to a white man, is compelling, as is the song "Ol' Man River," which is the complete antithesis of the more upbeat tunes popular at a time when many whites did not wish to acknowledge their injustice to African Americans. "Show Boat" was made into a film musical three times -- in 1929, 1936, and 1951. In 1954 it became part of the New York City Opera's standard repertory -- the first musical to be adopted by an opera company.
In 1915 Kern began writing musicals for the Princess Theatre in New York.The 1930s saw a string of Kern musicals: "The Cat and the Fiddle"; "Music in the Air"; "Roberta," which was made into a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in 1935 and which included the song "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"; the Astaire/Rogers film musical SWING TIME, featuring "A Fine Romance" and the Oscar-winning "The Way You Look Tonight"; and VERY WARM FOR MAY, which was a flop but from which the song "All the Things You Are" -- perhaps Kern's best song, if not the best popular song by any composer -- survives.In the 1940s Kern moved to Hollywood and devoted the rest of his career to writing music for films. He contributed the songs "The Last Time I Saw Paris" to LADY, BE GOOD, "Dearly Beloved" to YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER, and "Long Ago and Far Away" to COVER GIRL. He died in New York in 1945; his last score was for the film CENTENNIAL SUMMER, which was released in 1946.Most of Kern's manuscripts were assumed for decades to be lost. But in 1982 hundreds of manuscripts by Kern and other Broadway composers were found in a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. In an article in THE NEW YORK TIMES on March 10, 1987, the year that the manuscripts were inventoried after having been moved to Manhattan, Kern scholar John McGlinn was quoted as saying that the discovery was "like opening the tomb of King Tut. There are major works here that had been presumed lost forever; shows that were never revived and were assumed to have vanished off the face of the earth." Included among the findings were the complete scores for "Very Good Eddie," "Leave It to Jane," and "Sunny," and the original manuscripts of "Ol' Man River," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and music that was cut from "Show Boat" after the 1927 production. This "lost" music was added to a 1988 recording of "Show Boat," restoring the musical to its origin
Some of Kern's other Broadway shows include
"The Cat and the Fiddle""Girl from Utah""Oh, Boy!" "Oh, Lady! Lady!!" "Roberta" "Sally""Show Boat" and "Sunny". Although the story of his life was mostly ficvtionized in an MGM movie called "TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY" the film features some top Hollywood stars singing some very incredible Jerome Kern tunes. God love you, Mr. Kern. I always love your music!

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