Profile of a Composer: Jerome Kern

Before Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the book of the musical theatre, Kern and Hammerstein created that book with the production of Show Boat.

Jerome Kern

But, who was the Kern in the duo?

Jerome David Kern was born on January 27, 1885 in New York to Henry and Fannie Kakeles Kern.

From a young age, Kern is said to show a gift for music and was taught to play the piano and organ by his mother.

While in high school he wrote the songs for the schools first minstrel show.  He would go on to study at the New York College of Music.

In 1902, he published his first piano piece, At the Casino.  For the next two years he would study privately in Heidelberg, Germany before returning to New York.

While visiting England, he met Eva Leale and was instantly taken with her.  They were married on October 25, 1910 in England.  In 1913, the couple had a daughter, Betty Jane.

Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern

By as early as 1912, he is believed to have composed music for silent films.  His first complete Broadway score was the 1912 The Red Petticoat.

Kern stayed busy writing for various productions including The Ziegfeld Follies and The Princess Theatre shows through the remainder of the decade.

During the 1920s, Kern created at least one show a year.

In 1925, he met Oscar Hammerstein II and a lifelong friendship was built.  Their first show together was Sunny.

In his spare time, Jerome Kern enjoyed betting on horses and collecting rare books.  One of his favorite songs he wrote was I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star from Music in the Air.

In 1927, Kern and Hammerstein began working on Show Boat.  This was the first production that created a stage production around one story.  The show is based on the book by Edna Ferber’s novel.

In 1929, Kern made his first trip to Hollywood for the film version of his show Sally. Other movies would follow including Music in the Air, Roberta, Swing Time, and Lady Be Good.  His last film

Jerome Kern

score was the 1946 Centennial Summer.

In 1945, Jerome Kern return to New York City to work on a revival of Show Boat and begin work on the score for what would eventually become Annie Get Your Gun.  He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died on November 5, 1945.  He is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester County, New York. He was survived by his wife and daughter.

Oscar Hammerstein II was with Jerome Kern when he died.  Hammerstein was one of the main lyricists Kerns worked with, but he worked with many others including Otto Harbach, Johnny Mercer, E.Y. Harburg, Dorothy Fields and Ira Gershwin.

He was nominated for and won various Academy Awards.  {The Tony Awards were not created until two years after his death.} He was also posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Kern would write over 700 songs and work on over 100 stage works during their partnership.  Some of their songs include Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, A Fine Romance, Long Ago {And Far Away}, Ol’ Man River, Look for the Silver Lining, The Last Time I Saw Paris,  Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and The Way You Look Tonight.

The 1946 MGM film Till the Clouds Roll By is a fictionalized version of his life.

While he wrote for many musicals and musical films, Show Boat is the only show that continues to be revived today.  However, many of his songs have become standard tunes.