Richard Rodgers grew up in an affluent and musical household and having played the piano from his earliest years was composing music by his teens. Between 1919 and 1943 he enjoyed an immensely successful songwriting partnership with Lorenz Hart that yielded dozens of great American classics including 'Manhattan', 'Mountain Greenery', 'My Funny Valentine', 'Blue Moon' and 'The Lady Is A Tramp'. After Hart's premature death in 1943 Rodgers teamed-up with Oscar Hammerstein II, a lyricist whose family were heavily involved in the history of the theatre. His grandfather Oscar Hammerstein I had been an impresario who had founded the Manhattan Opera, his father William Hammerstein was director of the Victoria Theatre in New York while his uncle Arthur was a successful Broadway producer. Oscar Hammerstein was a contemporary of Rodgers and Hart at Columbia University and like them, he also began his musical career writing for Varsity shows and in 1920 had collaborated with Rodgers & Hart on the show Fly With Me. Despite studying Law, Hammerstein soon tired of the subject and dropped out after his second year determined to pursue a musical career and soon formed partnerships with several composers including Otto Harbach.
After enjoying success with Rudolf Friml (Rose Marie), Sigmund Romberg (The Desert Song), George Gershwin (Song Of The Flame) and Jerome Kern (Music In The Air and Showboat) he teamed-up with Rodgers following Hart's early death. The first fruits of this collaboration was a spectacular success with 1943's Oklahoma; one of the greatest musical scores of all time that aside from the barnstorming title song boasted such memorable numbers as 'Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'', 'People Will Say We're In Love', and 'The Surrey With The Fringe On Top'. The original Broadway production ran for more than five years and 2,212 performances while in 1955 it went one better when it was turned into an Oscar winning movie. Two years later the duo launched another Broadway spectacular that is generally considered to be their magnum opus; Carousel. The score was full of classic songs including; 'If I Loved You', 'When The Children Are Asleep', 'Soliloquy' and the perennial 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. A massive hit, the show ran for more than two years before touring throughout North America and beginning an eighteen-month engagement in London's West End. Numerous revivals and a 1956 movie version starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones added to the show's success. Later the same year (1945) Rodgers & Hammerstein composed the score for the movie musical State Fair and received an Oscar for the song 'It Might As Well Be Spring'.
Despite the lack of success that greeted 1947's Broadway project Allegro the duo were back on top two years later when South Pacific began a run of 1,925 performances and featured some of the most famous songs in their catalogue including; 'Some Enchanted Evening', 'There Is Nothin' Like A Dame', 'Bali Ha'i', 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair' and 'Happy Talk'. An enormous success with critics and audiences alike the production won ten Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Like their previous work the show was turned into a movie in 1958 and the resulting soundtrack topped the charts in the USA as well as the UK where it remained at No 1 for 70 consecutive weeks and 115 weeks in total. By now they were the most bankable writers on Broadway and their next show continued their successful run. Based on the novel Anna And The King Of Siam, The King And I starred Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence and opened on Broadway in 1951 to huge acclaim and contained enduring songs such as 'I Whistle A Happy Tune', 'Getting To Know You' and 'Shall We Dance'. The show garnered three Tony Awards, one for Best Musical and one each for Lawrence and Brynner and while the latter reprised his role as the King in the 1956 movie adaptation Lawrence had died four years previously so her role was played by Deborah Kerr. The film won five Oscars and the movie soundtrack was extremely popular (with Marni Nixon supplying Kerr's singing voice). The subsequent Me And Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955) and their television musical adaptation of Cinderella (1957) were lesser successes. Although 1958's Flower Drum Song was something of a return to form, their next (and last) collaboration would see their partnership end on a fantastically high note. The Sound Of Music (1959) was a resounding triumph while the subsequent 1965 film version catapulted Julie Andrews to fame and the soundtrack album became one of the best selling records of all time with over ten million copies sold worldwide. The commercial success and plaudits were richly deserved, virtually every song from the show is a classic and there can be few people that haven't heard 'The Sound Of Music', 'Maria', 'My Favorite Things', 'Do-Re-Mi', 'So Long, Farewell', 'Climb Evr'y Mountain' and 'Edelweiss'.
In just sixteen years Rodgers & Hammerstein had exceeded the success that Rodgers enjoyed with Lorenz Hart in twenty-four years and while Hammerstein saw the Sound Of Music become a Broadway smash he died in 1960 shortly after its opening and wouldn't see the phenomenal achievement of the movie. One of the most successful partnerships in Broadway history Rodgers & Hammerstein were the preeminent musical composers of their day and created some of the most loved and enduring shows and films. The strength of their words and melodies has been recognised with their songs transcending their original settings to take on lives of their own as great American classics. Following Hammerstein's death Rodgers collaborated with several lyricists including Steven Sondheim before he died in 1979 aged seventy-seven.
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