Kander, John (Harold), and Fred Ebb

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Kander, John (Harold), and Fred Ebb

Kander, John (Harold), and Fred Ebb, American songwriters of theater music. Composer Kander (b. Kansas City, Mo., March 18, 1927) and lyricist Ebb (b. N.Y., April 8, 1932) wrote the songs for 12 musicals that opened on Broadway between 1965 and 1997, among them Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman. They specialized in period work, frequently writing musical pastiches reminiscent of the popular music of the 1920s to the 1940s, notably in their bestknown songs, “Cabaret” and “New York, New York.” They were closely associated with Liza Minnelli, who starred in four of their musicals and in three movie musicals for which they wrote songs, but their talent for composing strong material for female stars also benefit-ted Barbra Streisand, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, and Lauren Bacall, among others.

Kander’s parents were Harold Kander, who worked in the poultry business, and Bernice Aaron Kander. He began playing piano at age four, initially under the tutelage of an aunt, and began taking lessons at six. In his teens he studied with Wiktor Labunski. He began to compose early on, writing the school show in his senior year of high school. He attended Oberlin Coll., where he wrote two shows with his friend James Goldman. Graduating in 1951, he enrolled at Columbia Univ., where he studied with Jack Beeson, Otto Luening, and Douglas Moore and earned an M.A. in composition. He served in the army and the merchant marine, then began to work in the theater.

Kander was choral director and conductor at the Warwick Musical Theatre in R.I. during the summers of 1955 and 1957. In 1956 he played piano for the musical The Amazing Adele, which closed before reaching Broadway, and for a Fla. production of An Evening with Beatrice Lillie. He served as conductor for an Off-Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s Conversation Piece in 1957. He earned his first Broadway credit arranging the dance music for Jule Styne’s Gypsy (N.Y., May 21, 1959) and performed the same function for Marguerite Monnot’s Irma La Douce (N.Y., Sept. 29, 1960). His first Broadway score came with the musical A Family Affair (N.Y., Jan. 27, 1962), with lyrics and book by James and William Goldman and directed by Harold Prince. It ran 65 performances. He then wrote incidental music for the Broadway play Never Too Late (N.Y., Nov. 27, 1962). Kander was introduced to Ebb in 1962 by his publisher, Tommy Valando.

Ebb, the son of Harry and Anna Evelyn Gritz Ebb, graduated from N.Y.U. in 1955 and earned an M.A. in English literature from Columbia Univ. in 1957. In 1955, Jim Lowe recorded his novelty song “Close the Door,” written with his first collaborator, composer Paul Klein. He and Klein wrote songs and special material for nightclub acts and then for revues such as A to Z (N.Y., April 20, 1960) and Vintage ’60 (N.Y., Sept. 12, 1960).

Kander and Ebb’s first notable collaboration was “My Coloring Book,” introduced by Kaye Ballard, then sung on The Kraft Music Hall television show by Sandy Stewart. Both Stewart and Kitty Kallen recorded it for chart singles by the end of 1962, and both enjoyed Top 40 hits with it. Ebb collaborated with Norman Martin on some songs for the Off-Broadway revue Put It in Writing (N.Y., May 13, 1963) and wrote both book and lyrics to Paul Klein’s music for the Off-Broadway musical Morning Sun (N.Y., Oct. 6, 1963). But his work with Kander continued to gain recognition beyond the theater as another of their songs, “I Don’t Care Much,” was recorded by Barbra Streisand, who placed it on her gold- selling LP The Second Barbra Streisand Album, released in the summer of 1963.

Ebb wrote material for the television series That Was the Week That Was, a satirical look at the news, which ran from January 1964 to May 1965, but he also maintained his musical collaboration with Kander. The songwriters worked on a musical, Golden Gate, that was never produced but that led producer Harold Prince and co-librettist and director George Abbott to decide they should be hired to write the songs for Flora, the Red Menace. This musical satire on 1930s radicals based on the novel Love Is Just around the Corner by Lester Atwell was produced in the spring of 1965 and marked the Broadway debut of Liza Minnelli in the title role. It ran only 87 performances, but the cast album spent two months in the charts. The show established the longrunning relationship between Kander and Ebb and Minnelli; they next wrote material for her nightclub debut at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14, 1965, a booking that helped establish her as a successful performer.

Harold Prince hired Kander and Ebb to write songs for his next effort, Cabaret, which he both produced and directed. The show was based on Joe Masteroff’s 1951 play I Am a Camera, which in turn was based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel The Berlin Stories concerning Weimar Germany. The songwriters’ score, heavily influenced by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, helped the musical to a run of 1, 166 performances, their greatest success. It won them Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Composer and Lyricist. The cast album spent nine months in the charts and won the 1967 Grammy for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album. The title song enjoyed a singles chart entry as an instrumental recording by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass.

Kander and Ebb took on a more conventional subject for their next musical, The Happy Time, a romantic comedy set in French Canada and starring Robert Goulet. Opening in January 1968, it ran 286 performances. Ten months later came Zorbá, librettist Joseph Stein’s adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Zorba, the Greek; it ran 304 performances and the cast album reached the charts. In 1971, 70, Girls, 70, for which Ebb co-wrote the libretto with Norman Martin, was the songwriters’ least successful effort, running only 35 performances.

Liza Minnelli starred in the successful film version of Cabaret, directed by Bob Fosse, which was released in February 1972 with several new songs by Kander and Ebb. The soundtrack album went gold. Ebb and Fosse produced, and Kander and Ebb wrote songs for, Minnelli’s television special, Liza with a “Z,” broadcast on Sept. 10, 1972, which won an Emmy for Outstanding Single Program—Variety and Popular Music, and produced a soundtrack album that spent more than five months in the charts. Kander and Ebb wrote songs for, and Fosse directed and choreographed, Minnelli’s Broadway show Liza, which ran during January 1974 and resulted in her charting concert album Live at the Winter Garden.

Kander and Ebb wrote the new songs used in the film Funny Lady, a sequel to Funny Girl, continuing the story of Fanny Brice and starring Barbra Streisand. It was released in March 1975, accompanied by a soundtrack album that hit the Top Ten and went gold. The songwriters returned to Broadway three months later with Chicago, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. Ebb and Fosse wrote the libretto, based on a 1920s Broadway play by Maurine Dallas Watkins about a murder trial and its attendant publicity. The show ran 947 performances and the cast album reached the charts. Kander and Ebb next wrote the songs for the film Lucky Lady, starring Minnelli and released in December.

In 1976, Ebb and Cy Coleman produced Shirley MacLaine’s television special Gypsy in My Soul, for which they won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Special. Kander and Ebb wrote songs for Minnelli’s next film, A Matter of Time, which was released in October 1976. That same month a revue featuring their songs, 2 by 5, began a 57-performance run Off-Broadway. New York, New York, a film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Minnelli and Robert De Niro, with songs by Kander and Ebb, opened in June 1977. The soundtrack album spent more than three months in the charts; Frank Sinatra recorded the title song three years later for a Top 40 hit, making it the songwriters’ best-known composition.

Kander and Ebb again worked with Liza Minnelli on their next Broadway musical, The Act, which opened in October 1977 and ran 233 performances. The songwriters worked separately in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with Kander contributing music to the film Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), while Ebb continued to work with Liza Minnelli, producing two television specials in which she appeared, Goldie and Liza Together (with Goldie Hawn; 1979) and Baryshnikov on Broadway (1980). They reunited for Woman of the Year, based on the 1942 film originally starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and now starring Lauren Bacall. The musical opened in March 1981 and ran 771 performances; the cast album reached the charts. Kander wrote music for the 1982 film Still of the Night.

Kander and Ebb again worked with Liza Minnelli, who costarred with Chita Rivera, on their next musical, The Rink. Opening in February 1984, the show ran 204 performances. Their next show had an unusually long gestation period. It was Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel by Manuel Puig that was also the source of a 1985 film by Hector Babenco, telling the story of two inmates in a South American prison and the film star one of them dreams about. The show was presented in a workshop production at the State Univ. of N.Y. in Purchase, N.Y., starting on May 1, 1990, then was revised for a version that ran in Toronto from June to August 1992. The show, starring Chita Rivera, opened in London in October 1992 and finally appeared on Broadway in May 1993, where it ran 906 performances and won the Tony for Best Musical. In the meantime, another anthology of Kander and Ebb’s songs, And the World Goes ’Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb, had opened Off-Broadway in March 1991, running 408 performances. The songwriters’ most recent show, Steel Pier, concerning a 1930s dance marathon, opened on Broadway in April 1997 and ran 76 performances.

Kander and Ebb’s shows were given frequent revivals on Broadway and elsewhere. In particular, a celebrated revival of Chicago was mounted on Broadway starting on Nov. 14, 1996. In the wake of the O. J. Simpson murder trial of 1994-95, the show’s themes were deemed particularly relevant, and the revival became a major success, spawning a London production and a national touring company. An imaginative revival of Cabaret was mounted in a nightclub setting on Broadway starting on March 18, 1998, and won the Tony for Best Revival. Both shows were still running at the end of the 1998-99 season.


(only works for which Kander and Ebb, working together, were primary, credited songwriters are listed): musicals/revues(dates refer to Broadway openings unless otherwise noted): Flora, the Red Menace (May 11, 1965); Cabaret (Nov. 20, 1966); The Happy Time (Jan. 18, 1968); Zorbá (Nov. 17, 1968); 70, Girls, 70 (April 15, 1971); Liza (Jan. 6, 1974); Chicago (June 3, 1975); 2 by 5 (Off-Broadway, Oct. 18, 1976); The Act (Oct. 29, 1977); Woman of the Year (March 28, 1981); The Rink (Feb. 9, 1984); And the World Goes ’Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb (Off-Broadway, March 18, 1991); Kiss of the Spiderwoman (London, Oct. 20, 1992; N.Y., May 3, 1993); Steel Pier (April 24, 1997). films:Cabaret (1972); Funny Lady (1975); Lucky Lady (1975); New York, New York (1977).

—William Ruhlmann