Jerome Kern

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Jerome Kern : biography

January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945

In 1905, Kern contributed the song "How’d you like to spoon with me?" to Ivan Caryll’s hit musical The Earl and the Girl when the show transferred to Chicago and New York in 1905. He also contributed to the New York production of The Catch of the Season (1905), The Little Cherub (1906) and The Orchid (1907), among other shows.Banfield, p. 11 From 1905 on, he spent large blocks of time in London, contributing songs to West End shows like The Beauty of Bath (1906; with lyricist P. G. Wodehouse) and making valuable contacts, including George Grossmith Jr. and Seymour Hicks, who were the first to introduce Kern’s songs to the London stage. Kern’s parents died in 1907 and 1908.Banfield, p. 9 In 1909 during one of his stays in England, Kern took a boat trip on the River Thames with some friends, and when the boat stopped at Walton-on-Thames, they went to an inn called the Swan for a drink. Kern was much taken with the proprietor’s daughter, Eva Leale (1891–1959), who was working behind the bar. He wooed her, and they were married at the Anglican church of St. Mary’s in Walton on October 25, 1910. The couple then lived at the Swan when Kern was in England.Banfield, pp. 13-14; Blackman, p. 10; and . The Swan at Walton-on-Thames, History, accessed May 12, 2010.

Kern is believed to have composed music for silent films as early as 1912, but the earliest documented film music which he is known to have written was for a twenty-part serial, Gloria’s Romance in 1916. This was one of the first starring vehicles for Billie Burke, for whom Kern had earlier written the song "Mind the Paint", with lyrics by A. W. Pinero. The film is now considered lost, but Kern’s music survives. Another score for the silent movies, Jubilo, followed in 1919.Banfield, p. 50 Kern was one of the founding members of ASCAP.

Kern’s first complete score was Broadway’s The Red Petticoat (1912), one of the first musical-comedy Westerns. The libretto was by Rida Johnson Young. By World War I, more than a hundred of Kern’s songs had been used in about thirty productions, mostly Broadway adaptations of West End and European shows. Kern contributed two songs to To-Night’s the Night (1914), another Rubens musical. It opened in New York and went on to become a hit in London. The best known of Kern’s songs from this period is probably "They Didn’t Believe Me", which was a hit in the New York version of the Paul Rubens and Sidney Jones musical, The Girl from Utah (1914), for which Kern wrote five songs. Kern’s song, with four beats to a bar, departed from the customary waltz-rhythms of European influence and fitted the new American passion for modern dances such as the fox-trot. He was also able to use elements of American styles, such as ragtime, as well as syncopation, in his lively dance tunes.Bordman, Gerald. "Jerome David Kern, Innovator/Traditionalist", The Musical Quarterly Volume 71, no. 4, April 1985, pp. 468-73 Theatre historian John Kenrick writes that the song put Kern in great demand on Broadway and established a pattern for musical comedy love songs that lasted through the 1960s.Kenrick, John. History of The Musical Stage, 1910-1919: Part I, The Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV and Film (2008)

In May 1915, Kern was due to sail with Charles Frohman from New York to London on board the RMS Lusitania, but Kern missed the boat, having overslept after staying up late playing poker.Denison, pp. 21–22; and McLean, p. 98 Frohman died in the sinking of the ship.. The New York Times, May 9, 1915, p. 3

The Princess Theatre musicals

Sheet music cover of "An Old-Fashioned Wife".

Kern composed sixteen Broadway scores between 1915 and 1920 and also contributed songs to the London hit Theodore & Co (1916; most of the songs are by the young Ivor Novello) and to revues like the Ziegfeld Follies. The most notable of his scores were those for a series of shows written for the Princess Theatre, a small (299-seat) house built by Ray Comstock. Theatrical agent Elisabeth Marbury asked Kern and librettist Guy Bolton to create a series of intimate and low-budget, yet smart, musicals.