John Kander is an American composer who has produced many well-known scores for the stage, television and film. He is best known for working with his musical partner, lyricist Frank Ebb.
Kander was born in Kansas City in 1927. From a young age he played the piano and began formal music training at college, where he composed his first theater scores. After college he worked as a pianist for pre-Broadway musicals in Florida. Kander credits his big break as chancing upon the pianist for a production of West Side Story in Philadelphia. He was asked to stand in while the pianist went on holiday and, shortly after, he played for a production of Gypsy and was introduced to Jerome Robbins who asked Kander to write the dance arrangements for the show.
In 1962, Kander had his Broadway debut with the musical A Family Affair and worked with producer Hal Prince. Although the show was not a success, it led to a successful future relationship with Prince. The following year, Kander was introduced to Frank Ebb and the pair began to write together. Their first song ‘My Colouring Book’ was nominated for a Grammy Award.
From then on, Kander and Ebb’s writing partnership grew and was consolidated with a string of musical hits. After a slow start with the Hal Prince musical Flora, the Red Menace (which featured a young Liza Minnelli making her Broadway debut), the pair wrote the musical Cabaret (1966). Their next big success came with Chicago (1975) and a fruitful collaboration with choreographer Bob Fosse. Both Cabaret and Chicago were made into hit films in the 1970s and 2000s respectively.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Kander and Ebb produced a steady stream of musicals with varying levels of popular success. 1990 saw the pair score another musical hit with The Kiss of the Spider Woman. His most recent show (without Ebb this time) is Kid Victory, which was produced off-Broadway in 2017.
As well as his theatrical works, Kander has written the scores for several films and collaborated Ebb on the 1977 film New York, New York, as well as Funny Lady and Lucky Lady (1975).
In addition to their multiple Tony Awards, Kander and Ebb were made Kennedy Center Honorees in 1998, as well as receiving the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theater in 2000.
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