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Truly one of the greatest figures in musical theater, Richard Charles Rodgers was born in New York City on June 28, 1902. His first big success, with lyricist Lorenz Hart, was a revue, The Garrick Gaeties (1925). The Rodgers-Hart comedy On Your Toes (1936), with its jazz ballet, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” established serious dance as a permanent part of musical comedy. Among other Rodgers-Hart collaborations were Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938) and Pal Joey (1940).
After Hart’s death, Rodgers worked with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Their Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Oklahoma! (1943) enjoyed a then-unprecedented Broadway run of 2,248 performances. Their 17-year partnership produced such smash hits as Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959), and established them as the foremost team in the history of the American musical.
The team wrote one movie musical, STATE FAIR (1945), and one for television, CINDERELLA. (1957). Collectively, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals earned 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards and 2 Emmy Awards. In 1998 Rodgers & Hammerstein were cited by Time Magazine and CBS News as among the 20 most influential artists of the 20th century and in 1999 they were jointly commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.
Despite Hammerstein’s death in 1960, Rodgers continued to write for the Broadway stage. His first solo entry, NO STRINGS in 1962, earned him two Tony Awards for music and lyrics, and was followed by DO I HEAR A WALTZ? (1965, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), TWO BY TWO (1970, lyrics by Martin Charnin), REX (1976, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) and I REMEMBER MAMA (1979, lyrics by Martin Charnin and Raymond Jessel).
He composed one ballet score (GHOST TOWN, premiered in 1939), and two television documentary scores — VICTORY AT SEA in 1952 and THE VALIANT YEARS in 1960 (the former earning him an Emmy, a Gold Record and a commendation from the U.S. Navy.)
Richard Rodgers died at home in New York City on December 30, 1979 at the age of 77. On March 27, 1990, he was honored posthumously with Broadway’s highest accolade when the 46th Street Theatre, owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization, was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre.