Jerome David Kern (January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945) was an American popular composer. He wrote around 700 songs and more than 100 complete scores for shows and films in a career lasting from 1902 until his death.
Jerome Kern was born in New York City. His parents, Fanny and Henry Kern, were both German Jews. They named him Jerome because they lived near Jerome Park, a favorite place of theirs. (Jerome Park was named after Leonard Jerome, who was the father of Jennie Jerome, mother of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.) Fanny encouraged her son to take piano lessons. Henry was a merchandiser and sold pianos among other item. Although Henry wanted his son to go into business with him, Jerome insisted on staying with music.
Kern grew up on East 56th Street in Midtown Manhattan, where he attended public schools. It is during this time that he is believed to have invented the Appleographone, a unique musical instrument constructed out of apples. He studied at the New York College of Music and then in Heidelberg, Germany. Kern spent a lot of time in London during the turn of the century and he married in Walton-on-Thames in 1910. When he came back to New York, he started working as a rehearsal pianist, but it didn't take long for him to become a prominent and renowned composer. By 1915, he was represented in many Broadway shows. In 1920, he wrote "Look for the Silver Lining" for the musical Sally.
1925 was a major turning point in Kern's career, for he met Oscar Hammerstein II, with whom he would entertain a lifelong friendship and collaboration. Their first show (written together with Otto Harbach) was Sunny. Kern and Hammerstein next wrote the famous Show Boat in 1927, which includes the well-known songs "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Based on the book of the same name by Edna Ferber, "Showboat" was the first musical comedy to integrate plot and music into a cohesive story deviating from the usual musical revue of that era. (A 1946 revival would also try to integrate choreography into the show, in the manner of Rodgers and Hammerstein, as would the 1993 Harold Prince revival.) Several of the songs from "Show Boat" were arranged by Charles Miller into the orchestral work Scenario for Orchestra: Themes from Show Boat in 1941. This was premiered and first recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Artur Rodziński, the first instance that such an honor had been paid to music from a Broadway show. The musical Roberta (1933) gave us "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and starred Bob Hope.
In 1935, Jerome Kern moved to Hollywood and started working on music for films but continued working on Broadway productions, too. His last Broadway show was the rather unsuccessful Very Warm For May in 1939; the score included another Kern–Hammerstein classic, "All The Things You Are". It was his last Broadway show; Kern suffered a heart attack in 1939 and was told by his doctors to concentrate on film scores - a less stressful task since Hollywood songwriters were not as involved with the production of films as Broadway songwriters were with the production of stage musicals.
Kern's Hollywood career was successful indeed. For Swing Time (starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), he wrote "The Way You Look Tonight" (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields), which won the Academy Award in 1936 for the best song. Some other songs in the film include "A Fine Romance", "Pick Yourself Up", and "Never Gonna Dance". In 1941, he and Hammerstein wrote "The Last Time I Saw Paris", a homage to the French city just recently occupied by the Germans. The song was used in the movie Lady Be Good and won another Oscar for Best Song - the only time a song not written for the film it appears in won the Oscar. In 1944, Kern teamed up with Ira Gershwin to write the songs for one of his best-remembered film musicals, Cover Girl, starring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. It featured the classic song Long Ago and Far Away.
Although Kern generally wrote for musical theatre, the harmonic richness of his compositions lend themselves well to the jazz idiom, which typically emphasizes improvisation based on a harmonic structure; many have been adopted by jazz musicians and have become standard tunes.
Jerome Kern died of a stroke in 1945, at the age of 60 in New York. He had been overseeing auditions for a new revival of Show Boat, and was due to compose the score for the musical Annie Get Your Gun but following his death, the task was passed to Irving Berlin. At the time of Kern's death, MGM was filming a fictionalized version of his life, Till the Clouds Roll By.
Complete Work for Broadway
Note: All shows are musical comedies for which Kern was the sole composer unless otherwise specified.
During his first phase of work for Broadway theater (1904-11), Kern wrote songs that were featured in revues or other collaborative musicals and occasionally co-wrote comic musicals with one or two other composers.
Beginning in 1912, the more-experienced Kern began to work on dramatically-concerned shows, including music for plays, and for the first time in his young career, he wrote musicals as the sole composer. His regular lyricist collaborators during this period were Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Harry B. Smith, Anne Caldwell, and Howard Dietz.
During the last phase of his life, Jerome Kern continued to work with his previous collaborators but also met Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, with whom Kern wrote his most lasting, memorable, and well-known works.
In addition to revivals of his most popular shows, the music of Jerome Kern was posthumously featured in a variety of revues, musicals, and concerts on Broadway.
Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead was named after Jerome Kern.