Sheet music from Kern’s musical, The Girl from Utah, 1914 (Library of Congress)
Weaned on European operettas and the popular music streaming from New York’s Tin Pan Alley, Jerome Kern first began to get some real attention when his hit song, “They Didn’t Believe Me,” was added to the 1914 musical The Girl From Utah. Its lively dance rhythms and use of ordinary language in a love song signaled the beginnings of what we now call American musical comedy. Kern and his collaborators, Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, caught the music-loving public’s attention with shows that successfully wedded music, lyrics, and libretto—a departure from the revue-style shows that had been the norm. A decade later he would partner with Oscar Hammerstein II to write the transformative musical play Showboat, famous for “Ol Man River,” “Bill,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine.”
American music specialist and pianist Robert Wyatt guides you through highlights in Kern’s life in New York and California. Kern wrote more than 700 songs for more than 100 stage and film productions. Listen to some of his immortal tunes, including “A Fine Romance,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “All the Things You Are,” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” and enjoy personal correspondence, film clips, and recordings of the masterworks that established Kern as the genius who set the cornerstone of American musical theater.
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