Major Composers

How the musical evolved

The first musicals, a form that evolved from vaudeville, revues, and follies, were more or less variety shows made up of a potpourri of songs alternating with comics and dancers.
It was inevitable that the next stage in the musical’s development was to incorporate drama, to make it a play with music instead of dialogue.
The first “book” musical was introduced in i927, (the same year as the first movie with sound, “The Jazz Singer”) “Show Boat,” with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and based on a novel by Edna Ferber, Songs were part of the plot, not simply inserted between episodes. Eventually, this became the standard for how musicals were written.

JEROME KERN (1885 1945) was one of the most important theatre composers of the early 20th century. He wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, collaborating with lyricists such as Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, and Yip Harburg. He wrote the music for the first “book” musical. “Showboat”, in 1927, when songs were an integral part of the plot, creating the model for musicals to come.

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HARRY WARREN (1892-1961) wasn’t from Jewish but Italian immigrants, but his story was the same. Through great musical talent, he rose to the top of his profession as a composer for movies. Collaborating with lyricists Al Dubin, Mack Gordan, and Johnny Mercer, he won three Academy Awards for Best Original Song out of eleven nominations and had more hit songs than even Irving Berlin, including the immortal “At Last.”

JIMMY VAN HEUSEN (1913–1990) wrote songs for films, television andtheater, and won an Emmy and four Academy Awards for Best OriginalSong. In Hollywood, he teamed with Johnny Burke on songs for Bing Crosby and then with Sammy Cahn on songs for Sinatra.

HAROLD ARLEN (1905–1986) composed over 500 songs, a number of which have become known worldwide. He famously wrote the music for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz (lyrics by Yip Harburg), including "Over the Rainbow", as well as many other standards, all with a jazz flavor.

SONNY BURKE (1914–1980)[1] was an arranger, composer, Big Band leader andproducer. His notable achievements were composing songs such as “BlackCoffee,” writing the music for “Lady Is a Tramp” with Peggy Lee. and working as a producer for major record labels.


Oscar Winner 1935

Oscar WInner 1958

Oscar Winner 1939