Kern, Jerome

views updated May 18 2018

Jerome Kern


For the Record

Selected compositions

Selected discography


When Jerome Kern died in 1945, America lost one of its greatest and most beloved composers. Harry Truman, who was the U.S. president at the time of Kerns death, was quoted as saying in David Ewens book, Composers for the American Musical Theatre: [Kerns] melodies will live in our voices and warm our hearts for many years to come. The man who gave them to us earned a lasting place in his nations history. In 1946 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a lavish musical film biography of Kern, Till the Clouds Roll By, with appearances by Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, and other stars. The centennial of Kerns birth was celebrated in 1985, which saw the issuing of a U.S. postage stamp in his honor, as well as the release of more recordings and performances of his music. Show Boat, the most enduring of his works, continues to enjoy Broadway revivals. There is no sign that Kerns legacy is in danger of fading.

Jerome David Kern was born in New York City. He studied piano with his mother and in high school was often asked to play piano and organ and compose music for school theatrical productions. In 1902, at the age of 17, he tried his hand at a business career working for his father, who owned a merchandizing house. But the young Kerns enthusiasm for music led to his ordering 200 pianos from an Italian dealer instead of twothe number he was supposed to purchase. This action almost cost his father his business, and to Kerns relief, it was agreed that he should pursue a career in music.

Kern enrolled in the New York College of Music in 1902 and in 1903 went abroad to study music in Germany. He took up permanent residence in London, where he began writing songs for British musical hall productions. A year later, he returned to New York, taking jobs with music publishersfirst the Lyceum Publishing Company and then Shapiro-Remick. At this time, British productions dominated Broadway. Kern was hired in 1904 to adapt one of these shows, Mr. Wix of Wickham, for the Broadway stage by Americanizing some of the numbers and by writing some additional songs of his own.

A year later, Kern took a job at another music publisher, T. B. Harms & Co.which eventually became the publisher of his own worksand continued writing musical interpolations for British shows. Ewen noted that almost a hundred of his songs were heard this way, in approximately thirty musicals. [This] apprenticeship prepared him for giant tasks and achievements that lay before him.

The 1910s were a productive and noteworthy period for Kern. He married an English woman, Eva Leale, in 1910

For the Record

Born Jerome David Kern, January 27, 1885, in New York, NY; died of a cerebral hemorrhage, November 11, 1945, in New York, NY; son of Henry Kern and Fannie Seligman Kern; married Eva Leale, 1910; children: Elizabeth (Betty) Kern Miller. Education: Attended New York College of Music; further music study in Germany.

Began career by composing adaptations of British musicals, beginning with Mr. Wix of Wickham, 1904; first hit, The Girl from Utah, produced 1914; wrote numerous stage musicals 1915-39, including Nobody Home and Very Good Eddie, 1915, Oh Boy! and Leave It to Jane, 1917, Oh Lady! Lady!!, 1918, Sally, 1920, Sunny, 1925, Show Boat, 1927, The Cat and the Fiddle, 1931, Music in the Air, 1932, Roberta, 1933, and Very Warm for May, 1939; wrote music for films, including Swing Time, 1936, Lady, Be Good, 1941, You Were Never Lovelier, 1942, Cover Girl, 1944, and Centennial Summer, 1946. Collaborators included lyricists Guy Bolton, Dorothy Fields, E. Y. Yip Harburg, P. G. Wodehouse, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Johnny Mercer. Arrangers included Frank Saddler, until 1921, and Robert Russell Bennett, beginning in 1923.

Awards: Academy awards for best song, 1937, for The Way You Look Tonight from Swing Time, and 1942, for The Last Time I Saw Paris, from Lady, Be Good.

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 OI Man River, Cant 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 biracial and is married to a white man, is compelling, as is the song OI 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 timesin 1929, 1936, and 1951. In 1954 it became part of the New York City Operas standard repertorythe first musical to be adopted by an opera company.

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 Oscarwinning The Way You Look Tonight; and Very Warm for May, which was a flop but from which the song All the Things You Areperhaps Kerns best song, if not the best popular song by any composersurvives.

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 Kerns 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 OI Man River, Cant 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 original glory.

Selected compositions

Stage musicals

The Girl from Utah, 1914.

Nobody Home, 1915.

Very Good Eddie, 1915.

Oh Boy!, 1917.

Leave It to Jane, 1917.

Oh Lady! Lady!!, 1918.

Sally, 1920; adapted for film, 1929.

Sunny, 1925; adapted for films, 1930 and 1941.

Show Boat (includes OI Man River, Make Believe, and Cant Help Lovin Dat Man), 1927; adapted for films, 1929, 1936, and 1951.

Sweet Adeline, 1929; adapted for film, 1935.

The Cat and the Fiddle, 1931; adapted for film, 1933.

Music in the Air, 1932; adapted for film, 1934.

Roberta, 1933; adapted for films, 1935 and 1952.

Film musicals

I Dream Too Much, 1935.

Swing Time (includes The Way You Look Tonight and A Fine Romance), 1936.

High, Wide, and Handsome, 1937.

When Youre in Love, 1937.

Joy of Living, 1938.

Very Warm for May (includes All the Things You Are), 1939.

One Night in the Tropics, 1940.

Last Time I Saw Paris, Lady, Be Good, 1941.

Dearly Beloved, You Were Never Lovelier, 1942.

Long Ago and Far Away, Cover Girl, 1944.

Cant Help Singing, 1944.

Centennial Summer, 1946.

Instrumental works

Scenario, 1941.

Mark Twain Suite, 1942.

Selected discography

Ella Fitzgerald, The Jerome Kern Songbook, 1963, reissued, Verve, 1985.

Show Boat (1988 studio castoriginal 1927 Broadway version), Angel, 1988.

Show Boat (reissue of 1951 motion picture soundtrack) Sony, 1990.

A Jerome Kern Showcase (anthology of tunes from musicals and films), Pearl, 1991.

Leave It to Jane (selections from 1959 off-Broadway revival), Stet, 1991.

Till the Clouds Roll By (selections from 1946 motion picture soundtrack), Sony, 1992.

The Heritage of Broadway, Volume 1: Music of Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern, Bainbridge, 1994.

70 Years of Broadway, Volume 1 (selections from Show Boat and Roberta by various artists), LaserLight, 1994.

The Cat and the Fiddle (1933 motion picture soundtrack), Hollywood Soundstage.

Roberta (1935 motion picture soundtrack), Classic International Filmusicals.

You Were Never Lovelier (1942 motion picture soundtrack), Curtain Calls.

Cover Girl (1944 motion picture soundtrack), Curtain Calls.

Centennial Summer (1946 motion picture soundtrack), Classic International Filmusicals.

Very Good Eddie (soundtrack from 1972 Broadway revival), DRG.



Bordman, Gerald, Jerome Kern: His Life and Music, Oxford University Press, 1980.

Ewen, David, Composers for the American Musical Theatre, Dodd, Mead, 1968.

Freedland, Michael, Jerome Kern: A Biography, Robson Books, 1978.

Krueger, Miles, Show Boat: The Story of a Classic American Musical, Oxford University Press, 1977.

Wilder, Alec, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Oxford University Press, 1972.


Musical America, January 1985.

Musical Quarterly, number 4, 1985.

New Yorker, March 25, 1985.

New York Times, November 12, 1945; March 10, 1987.

Time, June 10, 1985.

Joyce Harrison

Kern, Jerome (David)

views updated May 14 2018

Kern, Jerome (David)

Kern, Jerome (David), melodic American theatrical and film composer; b. N.Y., Jan. 27, 1885; d. there, Nov. 11, 1945. Kern was one of the most successful Broadway composers from 1915 through the mid-1930s. His stage works ranged from intimate shows at the Princess Theatre to the ambitious integrated musical Show Boat. In the last decade of his life he wrote primarily for musical films, among them such hits as Swing Time. Always highly melodic, his songs became increasingly complex structurally and harmonically without losing their popular appeal. Indeed, he consistently produced hits for 40 years, among them such standards as “OΓ Man River” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

Kern was the son of Henry Kern (b. April 26, 1842; d. Aug. 13, 1908), a German immigrant, and Fannie Kakeles Kern (b. May 27, 1852; d. Dec. 31, 1907), who was American-born, though her parents had emigrated from Bohemia. At the time of Kern’s birth, his father ran a stable; later he became a successful merchant. Kern showed an early interest in music and initially was instructed in piano and organ by his mother, an accomplished player. The family moved to Newark in 1897. Kern wrote songs for a student show at Newark H.S. in 1901 and for an amateur musical adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin put on at the Newark Yacht Club in January 1902. Later that year he left high school without graduating and briefly studied in Germany. He also briefly worked with his father, who was by then executive vice president of Wolff & Co. department store (eventually he become president), but his business career ended within months when he purchased 200 pianos for the store after being sent to buy only two.

Kern found a job in the billing office at Lyceum, a music publisher, in the summer of 1902, and the firm gave him his first publication with the piano piece “At the Casino” in September. He resumed his schooling, enrolling for evening classes at the N.Y. Coll. of Music, where he studied counterpoint with Austin Pierce, piano with Albert von Doenhoff, and, possibly, harmony and composition with Paul Gallico and the school’s director, Alexander Lambert. In 1903, after being promoted to song plugger at Lyceum, he moved to a similar job at another music publisher, T. B. Harms. (He later bought stock in the company and eventually became a vice president.) The association resulted in the first hearing of Kern’s music on Broadway, when “To the End of the World Together,” “Wine, Wine! (Champagne Song)” (both with lyrics by Edgar A. Smith), and possibly other songs were interpolated into the imported British musical An English Daisy (N.Y., Jan. 18, 1904).

Kern spent several months in 1903-04 in England attempting to place his songs in vaudeville and the legitimate theater; this began a lifelong love affair with Britain that led to many more trips and works created exclusively for the London stage. Mr. Wix ofWickham, an imported British show, marked the first time he wrote most of the songs for a Broadway show, though he was credited only with “additional musical numbers”; it ran for only 41 performances. He continued to contribute interpolations into shows primarily written by others extensively over the next decade, putting as many as 100 songs into as many as 30 shows in the U.S. and the U.K. between 1905 and 1912. The most successful of these—indeed, his only major hit of the period—was “How’d You Like to Spoon with Me?” (lyrics by Edward Laska), which was used in another British import, The Earl and the Girl (N.Y., Nov. 4, 1905). Connie Morgan, accompanied by The Haydn Quartet, made a record of the song that was a best-seller in January 1906. (While many of Kern’s songs became hit records, he himself had little interest in having his work presented outside of the theater. He generally disapproved of recordings and radio broadcasts of his music, and on occasion he took action to prevent them.)

On another songwriting trip to England in late 1905 or early 1906, Kern met P.G. Wodehouse, with whom he began to collaborate. Several of their songs, including “Mr. Chamberlain,” were used in The Beauty of Bath (London, March 19, 1906). In 1909, Kern met Eva Leale, daughter of the manager of the Swan hotel and pub in the village of Walton-on-Thames, England. They were married in 1910 and had a daughter in 1918. Kern shared composing credit with Frank Tours on La Belle Paree, which inaugurated the Winter Garden and marked the Broadway debut of its most illustrious inhabitant, Al Jolson, singing Kern’s “Paris Is a Paradise for Coons” (lyrics by Edward Madden); it ran for 104 performances.

The first show for which Kern alone wrote a complete score was The Red Petticoat, which ran for only 61 performances. His first hit song in eight years came with the dance tune “You’re Here and I’m Here,” which was interpolated into The Laughing Husband (N.Y., Feb. 2, 1914) and subsequently added to other shows; the song was successfully recorded by the duo of Harry Macdon-ough and Olive Kline.

Kern contributed songs to the American version of the British show The Girl from Utah (N.Y., Aug. 24, 1914); among them was “They Didn’t Believe Me” (lyrics by Michael Rourke under the pseudonym Herbert Reynolds), which was not immediately identified as the standard it later became. The first successful recording came with the version by Macdonough and Kline (under the pseudonym Alice Green), which became a big hit in November 1915; two more duos also scored hits with it: Walter Van Brunt and Gladys Rice in January 1916 and Grace Kerns and Reed Miller in July.

Though it failed, Kern’s next show, 90 in the Shade, served as his introduction to librettist Guy Bolton. He and Bolton immediately joined to begin writing the celebrated Princess Theatre shows, a series of small-scale musicals put on at the 299-seat N.Y. playhouse that proved highly influential as well as highly popular. The first of these was Nobody Home, which ran for 135 performances, becoming the first hit show credited to the 30-year-old composer, who had by now been contributing music to Broadway for 11 years. Its hit song was “The Magic Melody” (lyrics by Schuyler Greene), which became a successful record for Billy Murray in August.

Kern’s first show of the 1915-16 season was Miss Information, a star vehicle for Elsie Janis, who herself wrote the lyrics to its most memorable song, “Some Sort of Somebody.” Also featured in the next Princess Theatre show, Very Good Eddie, the song became a record hit for Murray and Elsie Baker (under the pseudonym Edna Brown) in June 1916. The other song to emerge from Very Good Eddie was “Babes in the Wood” (lyrics by Greene and Kern), which provided record hits for Van Brunt and Rice in August 1916, Prince’s Orch. in September 1916, and the team of Macdonough and Lucy Isabelle Marsh (under the pseudonym Anna Howard) in January 1917. All this time the show continued to run, finally racking up 341 performances in N.Y., with touring versions that continued into the 1918-19 season.

Kern was asked to contribute to the Ziegfeld Follies of 1916 (N.Y., June 12, 1916) and contributed four songs, among them “Have a Heart” (lyrics by Gene Buck), which inspired successful recordings by Conway’s Band and by Kline and Lambert Murphy. Though Kern, Bolton, and Wodehouse were involved in Miss Springtime (Sept. 25, 1916), for which the music was written primarily by Emmerich Kalman, their first full-fledged collaboration as a team was Have a Heart, one of three musicals with Kern scores to open within six weeks at the start of 1917. It was only a moderate success, as was Love o’ Mike, which followed within days. The biggest hit of the three was the next Princess Theatre show, Oh, Boy!, which ran 463 performances and spawned the hit song “Till the Clouds Roll By” (lyrics by Wodehouse). Anna Wheaton and James Harrold’s recording was a best-seller in August, Prince’s Orch. had an instrumental version that did almost as well, and Vernon Dalhart scored his first hit with his recording. Leave It to Jane, the fourth new Kern show of 1917, was also the third Kern-Bolton-Wodehouse collaboration of the year, and it was another hit, its most popular number being “The Siren’s Song” (lyrics by Wodehouse), which enjoyed a hit recording by Helen Clark and Gladys Rice in May 1918. Kern, Bolton, and Wodehouse returned to the Princess Theatre a final time with Oh, Lady! Lady!!, another success.

Kern’s first hit show of the 1920s came when the decade was barely a month old. The Night Boat (book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell) ran for more than 300 performances in N.Y. and for three seasons on tour, its notable songs including “Whose Baby Are You?” for a hit recording by Joseph C. Smith’s Orch. and “Left All Alone Again Blues,” a hit for Marion Harris. Kern had another successful show before the year was out with Sally, a Florenz Ziegfeld-produced vehicle for his Follies star Marilyn Miller with a book by Bolton. Running an amazing 570 performances (only the previous year’s Irene, which had played in a much smaller theater, had had a longer run among Broadway musicals), it spun off several hit songs, including “Look for the Silver Lining” (lyrics by B.G. De Sylva), which was recorded by a host of recording artists, though Harris’s version was the most successful, and “Whip-Poor-Will” (lyrics by De Sylva), a hit for Isham Jones and His Orch. The Vernon Country Club Band and Joseph C. Smith’s Orch. each made popular recordings of instrumental medleys of the show’s music.

Good Morning, Dearie, another teaming of Kern and Caldwell, was even more successful than The Night Boat, racking up 347 performances and producing a hit in the Hawaiian-styled “Ka-lu-a,” which was successfully recorded by Elsie Baker (using the pseudonym Edna Brown) and Elliott Shaw. The song also was used in Kern’s next show, the hit British musical The Cabaret Girl. His next American show was the flop The Bunch and Judy, which is worth mentioning because it marked the first time he worked with Fred Astaire. Stepping Stones, Kern’s next American show, was a success, featuring “Raggedy Ann” (lyrics by Caldwell), an instrumental record hit for Paul Whiteman and His Orch. Sitting Pretty marked the reunion of the Princess Theatre team of Kern, Bolton, and Wodehouse, and the show’s relative failure may have been due in part to Kern’s refusal to allow its songs to be played on the radio, in cabarets, or to be recorded. His ire was directed specifically at jazz interpretations of his work.

In preparing Sunny, another vehicle for Miller, Kern worked for the first time with the book-and-lyric writers who would be his most frequent partners over the rest of his life: Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. The result was a massive hit, running over 500 performances and featuring such compositions as the title song and “Who?,” which made up the two sides of a gold record for George Olsen and His Orch., who appeared onstage in the show.

Kern initiated his most successful musical, Show Boat, after reading Edna Ferber’s panoramic novel. He obtained the theatrical rights, interested Hammerstein in writing the book and lyrics, cast Helen Morgan in the role of Julie, and arranged for Ziegfeld to produce the show. It was a landmark production, acclaimed from the first out-of-town tryout as a masterpiece. Show Boat led to a startling maturation of the Broadway musical, introducing a serious, dramatic structure that integrated the songs with the plot and the characters, even putting onstage a consideration of civil rights decades before such a concern achieved national recognition. (Ironically, its very depiction of racial injustice would be mistakenly assailed as racist when a major revival was mounted in the 1990s.)

Aside from its importance in theater history and its political prescience, Show Boat was Kern’s best and most successful score. Several of its songs became immediate hits and went on to become standards, most prominently among them “OΓ Man River,” which was recorded by numerous performers, the most popular version coming from Whiteman with a vocal by Bing Crosby. (The other side of the Whiteman-Crosby record was “Make Believe,” another hit from the show.) Whiteman rerecorded “OΓ Man River” with Paul Robeson singing and had a second hit with it. Robeson had been slated to play Joe and sing the song onstage, but the show’s long gestation period found him unavailable at the opening. He played the role in London in 1928, in the first N.Y. revival in 1932, and in the second film version in 1936, and “OΓ Man River” became his signature song. Other hit versions were registered by Jolson and by The Revelers. Helen Morgan made a two-sided hit record of her songs from the show, “Bill” (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse), which had been written much earlier and cut from previous Kern shows, and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” Nat Shilkret and The Victor Orch. scored a hit with “Why Do I Love You?”; the score also boasted such memorable songs as “You Are Love” and “Life on the Wicked Stage.” The original production ran 575 performances, the longest of any by Kern, and the show has been revived perennially since.

Kern eased his previously heavy composing schedule after Show Boat. His next production for Broadway was Sweet Adeline, a turn-of-the-century period piece written as a vehicle for Helen Morgan. A moderate hit, it was notable for the song “Why Was I Born?” (lyrics by Hammerstein), successfully recorded by Helen Morgan and by Libby Holman, whose tumultuous career would be the subject of the 1935 film Reckless, to which Kern would contribute music.

With the onset of talking motion pictures, Kern and his musicals became more attractive to Hollywood. He had scored the Gloria’s Romance series of silent films in 1916, and an unsuccessful silent version of Sally had been made in 1925. In 1929 a second film version of Sally and a first one of Show Boat were attempted, and in 1930 Kern made his first trip to Hollywood to work on Men of the Sky (ultimately released without songs) and a film version of Sunny.

Returning to Broadway, Kern and Harbach produced The Cat and the Fiddle, which ran for 395 performances, a remarkable success during the Depression. Its best-remembered songs, “The Night Was Made for Love” and “She Didn’t Say ’Yes” made up the two sides of a hit record by Leo Reisman and His Orch. Kern again teamed with Hammerstein for Music in the Air, another success; its two standout numbers, ”I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star” and “The Song Is You,” appeared on a popular recording by Jack Denny and His Orch. before going on to become standards. Roberta, Kern’s last Broadway musical for six years, also added several standards to his catalog, most prominent among them “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Yesterdays,” and “The Touch of Your Hand” (all lyrics by Harbach). Reisman recorded popular versions of all three, even using Tamara, who sang the song onstage, as vocalist on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” But the best-selling of many contemporary recordings of the song was the one by Whiteman. (Even though its popularity saved the show, which had been poorly reviewed, Kern expressed his displeasure with the recorded versions of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and threatened to withdraw permission for radio broadcasts.) The rich score also boasted such songs as “You’re Devastating” and “Let’s Begin.”

After the failure of Three Sisters in London, Kern turned to writing for the movies full-time. He and Hammerstein added songs to the film versions of Music in the Air and Sweet Adeline, while the score to Roberta, which became a vehicle for Astaire and Ginger Rogers, was largely replaced by new songs Kern wrote with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Among these were “Lovely to Look At” and “I Won’t Dance,” the latter a revised version of a song from Three Sisters. The orchestras of Reisman and Eddy Duchin each made records pairing the two songs, with Duchin’s the more successful. Both were among the country’s most popular songs in April 1935. Before the end of the year, Kern and Fields teamed again for the Lily Pons vehicle I Dream Too Much, which produced modest hits in the title song (recorded by Reisman) and “I’m the Echo” (recorded by Whiteman).

Kern and Hammerstein wrote several new songs for the second film version of Show Boat, among them “It Still Suits Me,” for Robeson. Kern and Fields next provided songs for the Astaire-Rogers film Swing Time, with successful recordings resulting from six of their contributions. Astaire recorded popular versions of five: “The Way You Look Tonight” (also recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Orch. and by Teddy Wilson and His Orch. with Billie Holiday on vocals); “A Fine Romance” (also recorded by Lombardo and by Holiday); “Never Gonna Dance”; “Pick Yourself Up”; and “Bojangles of Harlem.” The instrumental “Waltz in Swing Time,” recorded by Johnny Green and His Orch. and issued on the flip side of Astaire’s version of “A Fine Romance,” was also a modest hit. “The Way You Look Tonight” won the Academy Award for Best Song of 1936.

Kern gave up commuting between N.Y. and Calif, and settled in Beverly Hills in 1937. He and Hammer-stein collaborated on High, Wide and Handsome, which produced hits in “Can I Forget You?,” most successfully recorded by Crosby, and “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” a minor hit for Lombardo that went on to become a standard. Kern also composed the film’s score. While working on songs for his next film he suffered a heart attack in March 1937 that incapacitated him for several months, delaying the completion of his next film with Fields, Joy of Living, until the following year. Of the four songs he contributed, the hit was “You Couldn’t Be Cuter,” which enjoyed its most popular recording by Tommy Dorsey and His Orch.

Kern made two more attempts at Broadway musicals during the next year, collaborating with Harbach and Hammerstein on Gentlemen Unafraid (St. Louis, June 3, 1938), which never made it to N.Y., and with Hammer-stein on Very Warm for May, which ran a mere 59 performances despite a strong score that included the hit “All the Things You Are,” successfully recorded by Dorsey and by the orchestra of Artie Shaw, who married Kern’s daughter in 1941.

Kern wrote one of his few songs not inspired by a musical or film in 1940 when Hammerstein sent him the lyric for “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” which he had been inspired to write by the recent Nazi occupation. Introduced by Kate Smith on radio and recorded by her, the song became a hit. It was interpolated into the film Lady, Be Good! (1941) and won the Academy Award for Best Song. Kern, however, felt that it should not have been eligible since it had not been written for the film and successfully petitioned to have the rules changed in the future.

Kern worked with a series of well-known but new collaborators on each of his last four films. Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics to the songs in the Astaire movie musical You Were Never Lovelier. The major hit from the film was “Dearly Beloved,” a Top Ten hit for Glenn Miller and His Orch. and for Dinah Shore; Astaire’s recording of “I’m Old Fashioned” was also successful. Ira Gershwin joined Kern for Cover Girl, notable for the song “Long Ago (And Far Away),” which became a Top Ten hit for Crosby, for Jo Stafford, and for Perry Corno, though the most successful recording was by Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes. E. Y. Harburg worked with Kern on Can’t Help Singing, which featured “More and More,” a Top Ten hit for Dorsey and also a hit for Corno. And Leo Robin was the primary lyricist for Centennial Summer; he wrote “In Love in Vain,” a hit for Haymes and Forrest and for Margaret Whiting, though the film’s most successful song was the Kern-Hammerstein collaboration “All through the Day,” taken into the Top Ten by Frank Sinatra and by Corno. The song was also a hit for Whiting.

Kern’s final songs thus continued to achieve widespread popularity up to the time of his death. When he died he was preparing for another revival of Show Boat (N.Y., Jan. 5, 1946) that would feature his last song, “Nobody Else But Me” (lyrics by Hammer stein). He had also planned to write a new Broadway musical, Annie Oakley, subsequently composed by Irving Berlin as Annie Get Your Gun.

Though largely fictional, the screen biography Till the Clouds Roll By featured a large number of Kern’s best-known songs in renditions by such contemporary singers as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. This turned out to be a precursor for the extensive use of Kern’s songs by the generation of post-World War II pop singers. His songs also occasionally returned to the hit parade, notably in the chart-topping gold record of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by the Platters in 1958-59. Other notable films featuring Kern music include the Marilyn Miller screen biography Look for the Silver Lining (1949), the third version of Show Boat, the second version of Roberta, entitled Lovely to Look At, and The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited.” Kern’s shows have been staged frequently on and Off- Broadway and regionally, including such major Broadway revivals as Very Good Eddie (Dec. 21, 1975) and Show Boat (Oct. 2, 1994), which won the Tony Award for Best Revival.

Though he was indifferent or antagonistic toward such popular genres of his time as ragtime, jazz, and swing, Kern readily adapted to changing trends in theater and film music and developed stylistically far more than such predecessors as Victor Herbert, such that his songs continued to become popular throughout his life. He was able to write in the light vaudeville and operetta styles of his youth, yet he helped foster the sophisticated song form developed further by George Gershwin and Cole Porter. He is credited with writing the first of the integrated musicals that, in the hands of Richard Rodgers and Frederick Loewe, would dominate Broadway after his death. But his greatest gift was an endless stream of melody that has served to make his songs timeless despite changes in musical fashion.


musicals/revues(only shows for which Kern was principal composer or co-composer are noted; all dates are for N.Y. opening unless otherwise noted): Mr. Wix of Wickham (Sept. 19, 1904); La Belle Paree (March 20, 1911); The Red Petticoat (Nov. 13, 1912); Oh, I Say! (Oct. 30, 1913); 90 in the Shade (Jan. 25, 1915); Nobody Home (April 20, 1915); Miss Information (Oct. 5, 1915); Very Good Eddie (Dec. 23, 1915); Have a Heart (Jan. 11, 1917); Love o’ Mike (Jan. 15, 1917); Oh, Boy! (Feb. 20, 1917); Leave It to Jane (Aug. 28, 1917); Miss 1917 (Nov. 5, 1917); Oh, Lady! Lady!! (Feb. 1, 1918); Toot-Toot! (March 11, 1918); Rock-a-bye Baby (May 22, 1918); Head over Heels (Aug. 29, 1918); She’s a Good Fellow (May 5, 1919); The Night Boat (Feb. 2, 1920); Hitchy- Koo, 1920 (Oct. 19, 1920); Sally (Dec. 21, 1920); Good Morning, Dearie (Nov. 1, 1921); The Cabaret Girl (London, Sept. 19, 1922); The Bunch and Judy (Nov. 28, 1922); The Beauty Prize (London, Sept. 5, 1923); Stepping Stones (Nov. 6, 1923); Sitting Pretty (April 8, 1924); Dear Sir (Sept. 23, 1924); Sunny (Sept. 22, 1925); The City Chap (Oct. 26, 1925); Criss Cross (Oct. 12, 1926); Show Boat (Dec. 27, 1927); Blue Eyes (London, April 27, 1928); Sweet Adeline (Sept.3, 1929); The Cat and the Fiddle (Oct. 15, 1931); Music in the Air (Nov. 8, 1932); Roberta (Nov. 18, 1933); Three Sisters (London, April 9, 1934); Very Warm for May (Nov. 17, 1939). films(only films for which Kern was principal composer are noted): Gloria’s Romance (1916); Sally (1925); Show Boat (1929); Sally (1929); Sunny (1930); Men of the Sky (1931); The Cat and the Fiddle (1934); Music in the Air (1934); Sweet Adeline (1935); Roberta (1935); I Dream Too Much (1935); Show Boat (1936); Swing Time (1936); When You’re in Love (1937); High, Wide and Handsome (1937); Joy of Living (1938); One Night in the Tropics (1940); Sunny (1941); You Were Never Lovelier (1942); Cover Girl (1944); Can’t Help Singing (1944); Centennial Summer (1946); Till the Clouds Roll By (1946); Show Boat (1951); Lovely to Look At (1952). other works:”Scenario for Orchestra on Themes from Show Boat” (Cleveland, Oct. 23, 1941; introduced by the Cleveland Symphony Orch., conducted by Artur Rodzinski); “Mark Twain (Portrait for Orchestra)” (Cincinnati, May 1942; introduced by the Cincinnati Symphony Orch., conducted by André Kostelan-etz); “Montage for Orchestra” (1945).


D. Ewen, The Story ofj. K. (N.Y., 1953); D. Ewen, The World ofj. K. (N.Y., 1960); O. Hammerstein II, ed., The J. K. Song Book (N.Y., 1955); H. Fordin, /. K.: The Man and His Music (Santa Monica, 1975); A. Lamb, /. K. in Edwardian London (N.Y., 1981; 2nd ed., rev., 1985); M. Freedland, /. K.: A Biography (N.Y., 1978); G. Bordman, /. K.: His Life and Music (N.Y., 1980); L. Davis, Bolton and Wodehouse and K.: The Men Who Made Musical Comedy (N.Y., 1993).

—William Ruhlmann

Jerome David Kern

views updated May 23 2018

Jerome David Kern

Jerome David Kern (1885-1945), American composer, wrote the scores for several of the musical theater's greatest successes.

Jerome Kern was born in New York City on Jan. 27, 1885. His first music teacher was his pianist-mother. He later studied at the New York College of Music as well as in Europe.

After working in the London theater, Kern returned to America, where the only work he could find was as a song plugger and pianist with a music publishing company. From 1905 to 1908 he was associated with a music company, rising to the vice presidency. He married Eva Leale in 1910, and they had a daughter. His first published score was an operetta, The Red Petticoat (1912).

Between 1914 and 1929 Kern was represented on Broadway by at least one show a season. His prolific output included Rock a Bye Baby (1918), Sally (1920), and Sunny (1925). In 1926 he wrote the score for a Broadway adaptation of an Edna Ferber novel, and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics. The result was the musical classic Show Boat. It opened in 1927 and ran for 572 performances. It was later twice made into a Hollywood film. One of its songs, "Ol' Man River," is perhaps Kern's most famous. In 1941 Show Boat was transposed into symphonic form and performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Other Kern successes include Music in the Air (1932) and Roberta (1933) and, for the movies, Swing Time (1936), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), and Centennial Summer (1946). Among his most popular songs are "My Bill," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Who?," "They Didn't Believe Me," "Look for the Silver Lining," and "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (his only hit song not written for a specific show).

In the realm of serious music, Kern composed Portrait for Orchestra (Mark Twain), which had its world premiere in 1942 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Montage for Orchestral Suite for full orchestra and two pianos.

Kern was interested in a number of scholarly pursuits. His collection of rare books brought nearly $2 million at auction in 1929. He was also a collector of art, a numismatist, and philatelist.

In his 40-year career Kern wrote 104 stage and screen vehicles. At the time of his death on Nov. 11, 1945, he was in New York to cosponsor a new production of Show Boat. A film biography, Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), was one of many tributes paid to him.

Further Reading

An entertaining account of Kern's life is David Ewen, The Story of Jerome Kern (1953), which makes it clear that Kern was the first to break from the style of European operettas. See also Ewen's The World of Jerome Kern (1960). Background studies include Cecil M. Smith, Musical Comedy in America (1950), and David Ewen, The Story of America's Musical Theater (1961; rev. ed. 1968) and Great Men of American Popular Song (1970).

Additional Sources

Bordman, Gerald Martin, Jerome Kern: his life and music, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Lamb, Andrew, Jerome Kern in Edwardian London, Brooklyn, N.Y.: Institute for Studies in American Music, Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, 1985.

Freedland, Michael, Jerome Kern, New York: Stein and Day, 1981, 1978. □

Kern, Jerome David

views updated Jun 11 2018


KERN, JEROME DAVID (1885–1945), U.S. composer of popular music. Born in New York, Kern published his first song, "At the Casino," in 1902. In 1903, while working in London, he had his first real success – a political song "Mr. Chamberlain" with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, who later contributed lyrics to many of Kern's musicals. Returning to the U.S., he wrote songs that were used in musical productions, particularly in operettas coming from Europe, such as La Belle Paree (1911) and The Red Petticoat (1912), which was followed by Oh I Say (1913). From then on, his musicals appeared regularly on Broadway, the most important being Very Good, Eddie (1915), Oh Boy! (1917), Oh Lady, Lady (1918), Sally (1920), and Sunny (1925). His greatest success was Show Boat (1927) with libretto and lyrics by Oscar *Hammerstein. It was followed by Sweet Adeline (1929), The Cat and the Fiddle (1931), and Roberta (1933). In later years, Kern lived in Beverly Hills, California, and wrote scores for a great number of films, many of them adaptations of his most successful musicals. In all he wrote more than 1,000 songs, for 104 stage shows and films, and many of them proved to have a lasting popularity (e.g., "Ol' Man River," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"). In 1946 his life story was filmed under the title Till the Clouds Roll By.


D. Ewen, World of Jerome Kern (1960), incl. bibl.; K. List, in: Commentary, 3 (1947), 433–41; G. Saleski, Famous Musicians of Jewish Origin (1949), 85–86.

Kern, Jerome (David)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Kern, Jerome (David) (b NY, 1885; d NY, 1945). Amer. composer. Wrote his first successful song in 1905. Comp. several popular musicals incl. Oh, Boy! (1917); Sally (1920); Sunny (1925); Show Boat (1927); Music in the Air (1932); and Roberta (1933). Show Boat (first musical to enter an opera co.'s repertory, NY City Opera 1954) contained the songs ‘Ol’ Man River’, first sung by Paul Robeson, and ‘Can't help Lovin’ dat Man of Mine’. Also comp. ‘Smoke Gets in your Eyes’ (in Roberta), ‘All the things you are’, and other popular melodies, several being featured in films. Words for several of his songs (most famous being ‘Bill’) were written by P. G. Wodehouse.

Kern, Jerome David

views updated May 14 2018

Kern, Jerome David (1885–1945) US songwriter of film and show music. His best-known musical, Showboat (staged 1927; filmed 1936, 1959), contains the song “Ol' Man River”. Kern influenced Richard Rodgers and George Gershwin.