Jerome David Kern was born in New York City in 1885. He studied piano with his mother and was often asked to play for school theatrical productions. At the age of 17, he began working for his father who owned a merchandizing house. However, he was not cut out for the business world (accidentally ordering 200 pianos from an Italian dealer, instead of two), and his father agreed that he could study music instead.
Kern enrolled in the New York College of Music in 1902 and the following year he traveled to German to study music. From there, he moved to London and began to write songs for popular music hall productions. One year later, he moved back to New York City to work for music publishers, including the Lyceum Publishing Company and Shapiro-Remick. In 1904, he was hired to adapt a British production, Mr. Wix of Wickham, for the Broadway stage. Now working for T.B. Harms & Co., he continued to “Americanize” British productions, including additional songs of his own.
Kern had his first hit in 1914 with The Girl From Utah (another Americanized adaptation) and went on to write musicals for the Princess Theatre in New York. However it was not until 1927 that Kern achieved his most notable Broadway success. In partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II, the premiere of Show Boat was a huge hit and marked a turning point for the direction of the Broadway musical.
Kern had a string of popular musical hits throughout the 1930s, including The Cat and the Fiddle, Music in the Air, and Roberta, which was made into a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. By the 1940s, Kern had moved to Hollywood and devoted the rest of his career composing music for films. He was a two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Kern married an English woman, Eva Leale, in 1910 and the couple had a daughter. He died in 1945 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while in New York City; Oscar Hammerstein II was by his side. Kern was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame posthumously in 1970.
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