Jule Styne, born Julius Kerwin Stein, was a British-American songwriter and composer. His songs are featured in many works of musical theater including Gypsy, Funny Girl, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. He also wrote stand-alone musical standards that are still revered today.
Styne was born in London on December 31, 1905. However, his moved to Chicago when he was eight, so most of Styne’s formative years and experiences took place in America. Around this time, Styne started taking piano lessons and proved to be a child prodigy, earning spots performing for the Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit Symphonies prior to his tenth birthday.
After attending Chicago Musical College, Styne worked as a vocal coach for 20th Century Fox. When the company decided to cut vocal coaches, since they were perceived as an unnecessary luxury, Styne was advised by his boss to write songs instead. Styne was later endorsed by Frank Sinatra, and began collaborating with lyricist Sammy Cahn as a result.
Styne and Cahn gained massive notoriety writing songs for mid-20th century Hollywood films, including “Three Coins in the Fountain” for the Oscar-winning film of the same name and “It’s Magic” sung by Doris Day. Styne’s work was first showcased onstage in the Broadway musical High Button Shoes in 1947. He then continued to write for Broadway musicals for many decades, and ultimately received a Tony Award for Best Original Score in 1968 for his work on Hallelujah, Baby!.
Though Styne is widely revered for his musical collaborations with Cahn, he also famously worked with Leo Robin, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Stephen Sondheim, E.Y. Harburg, and Bob Merrill throughout his career.
Styne wrote over 1,500 songs in his lifetime, and he received many lifetime achievement honors in the later portion of his life. He was added to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981. He also received Kennedy Center Honors.
Styne passed away due to heart failure at the age of 88 on September 20, 1994. An archive of Styne’s papers and materials can be sourced at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
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