WRTI Spotlight
4:10 pm
Thu June 19, 2008

Richard Rodgers' Birthday on WRTI: Saturday, June 28 from 6:30 to 11 am

Have an "enchanted" morning with music by the Great American Songwriter Richard Rodgers on the 106th anniversary of his birth.

With nearly 1,000 songs and over 40 musicals to his credit, Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) left an indelible mark on American music and popular culture. To honor Rodgers' legacy, WRTI will play selections from some of his most popular musicals, including South Pacific, Oklahoma!, and The King and I, as well as excerpts from the Emmy-winning television documentary series Victory at Sea.

"You'd like to walk along the street and hear some kid whistling a tune that you wrote. This is one of the most gratifying sensations in the world." --Richard Rodgers

One of only two people in history to have won an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Tony Award, and Pulitzer Prize, Richard Rodgers is perhaps best known for his songwriting partnerships with lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. His career spanned almost 60 years and included some of the most memorable and enduring songs of the 20th century, including "My Funny Valentine", "The Lady Is a Tramp", "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," and "You'll Never Walk Alone." His Broadway success is unparalleled, with The Sound of Music, Carousel, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The King and I just skimming the surface of his contribution to the art form.

In the anthology American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, American composer Alec Wilder eloquently remarked of Richard Rodgers, "Of all the writers whose songs are considered and examined in this book, those of Rodgers show the highest degree of consistent excellence, inventiveness, and sophistication...after spending weeks playing his songs, I am more than impressed and respectful: I am astonished."

In one of the most auspicious beginnings in musical theater history,

Oklahoma! was the first musical play written by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. Set in Oklahoma Territory in 1906 and based on Lynn Riggs's 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs, it tells the story of young cowboy and his romance with a farm girl. It was among the first major Broadway productions to integrate a story line that connected the musical and dance numbers, creating a newfound cohesion. It revolutionized the art form. In addition to the numerous awards and recognition bestowed on the musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for their landmark achievement.

A second Pulitzer came just six years later with the musical widely considered to be one of the greatest in history, South Pacific, based on two short stories by James A. Michener from his book Tales of the South Pacific. With its candid exploration of racial prejudice the dense story was a radical departure from its far lighter predecessors. The Broadway production of South Pacific was nominated for ten Tony Awards and ran the table, winning all ten, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Libretto. To this day it is the only musical production ever to win all four Tony Awards for acting. The show was a critical and box office hit, and the musical has since enjoyed many successful revivals and tours and spawned a 1958 film and other adaptations.

Following their triumph with South Pacific, Rodgers and Hammerstein kept to that hemisphere and adapted Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam into The King and I. Landon's story was based on the autobiography of British Governess Anna Leonowens and her experiences teaching the children of King Mongkut of Siam (now Thailand). In only their sixth collaboration, Rodgers and Hammerstein again garnered critical and public acclaim, with the original Broadway production winning five Tony awards, including Best Musical, and running for over 1,200 performances.

Richard Rodgers' contribution to the 1952 television naval warfare documentary Victory at Sea consisted of twelve short piano themes, roughly a minute or two in duration that were then expanded and orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett. Bennett, a prominent composer in his own right, had made a lucrative career out of orchestrating numerous well-known Broadway musicals by other composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter, as well as much of Rodgers' work with both Hart and Hammerstein. Despite composing far more original material than Rodgers, Bennett was only credited as the arranger and conductor, although he has since been given recognition for his achievements.

Richard Rodgers Celebration on WRTI: Saturday Morning, June 28, 6:30 to 11 am.

More Information:

Richard Rodgers on Wikipedia

Richard Rodgers Timeline on PBS