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Richard Rodgers, 1902-1979: A Man of a Thousand Songs


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I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English Program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA.

That is music from the television show "Victory At Sea" written in nineteen fifty-two.  The man who composed that beautiful music is known mainly as a writer of show songs.  He wrote more than one thousand songs that helped tell stories in theaters, on television and in the movies.  His music has been heard in more than two hundred movies and two thousand television shows.

Some experts say his music created more happiness than that of any other American popular composer.  His name was Richard Rodgers.  Today, we tell his story.

Richard Charles Rodgers was born in New York City on June twenty-eighth, nineteen-oh-two.  Both his parents enjoyed singing and playing the piano.  His grandparents loved opera and took their grandson to many productions.  Richard attended many Broadway shows as a child.

Richard Rodgers began playing the piano by the age of three.  At the age of fifteen, he decided that he would work in the musical theater.  That same year, he wrote the music for a stage show presented by a local group of young people.  Then, he wrote music for a production by students at Columbia University.

Other future show business leaders were also involved in the Columbia productions.  Two of these men would be very important in Richard Rodgers' life -- Oscar Hammerstein and Lorenz Hart.

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart worked as a songwriting team for more than twenty years.  Their first hit song was in the musical "The Garrick Gaities" produced in nineteen twenty-five.  The song is still performed today.  Here is Mickey Rooney singing "Manhattan."

Rodgers wrote the music first, then Hart put words to the music.  They also wrote songs for the movies.  One of their most widely known songs comes from a movie, "Blue Moon."  Many singers have recorded it since it was written in nineteen thirty-four.  It was even a rock and roll hit for the Marcels in the nineteen sixties.

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart stopped working together in the early nineteen forties.  Hart was an unhappy man.  He was in poor health as a result of a serious drinking problem.  It was increasingly difficult for Rodgers to work with him.  Richard Rodgers turned to another old friend -- Oscar Hammerstein.

Rodgers and Hammerstein worked differently than did Rodgers and Hart.  Oscar Hammerstein would write the words and give them to Rodgers.  Rodgers then would write music to go with the words.

Their first show together was the historic "Oklahoma!"  It opened in nineteen forty-three.  Critics have called it a revolution in American theater.  Rodgers and Hammerstein were praised for writing songs that developed the show and helped tell the story.

"Oklahoma!" still is performed on Broadway and in other theaters around the world.  Here is the famous title song from the first Broadway production.

Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the songs for nine musical plays, including "The King and I," "Flower Drum Song" and "The Sound of Music."  Their musical plays were also made as movies.

Their songs expressed love and pain and told about social problems.  One example is this song from the musical "South Pacific" that opened in nineteen forty-nine.  One of the men in the musical is in love with a woman of a different race.  He sings a song expressing the conflict between his racial feelings and his love.  The song is called "You've Got to be Carefully Taught."  Listen to William Tabbert who sang it first on Broadway.

Richard Rodgers wrote both the words and the music for Broadway shows following Oscar Hammerstein's death in nineteen sixty.  Critics say the best of these is "No Strings."  It explored a romance between a black woman and a white man.  The main song is "The Sweetest Sounds."  Richard Kiley and Diahann Carroll sang it on Broadway.

Richard Rodgers and his wife Dorothy had two daughters and six grandchildren.  One daughter and two grandsons also write music.  Richard Rogers died in nineteen seventy-nine.  He was seventy-seven years old.  Books written about his life describe him as a cold man who was often depressed.  Family members say he was only able to express himself through music.

Richard Rodgers once said the show he liked the best was "Carousel," the second musical he wrote with Oscar Hammerstein.  It is a sad story about a young girl who marries a thief.  One of the songs in the show now is considered to have a religious influence.  Here is the song, "You'll Never Walk Alone".

Music experts say that a Richard Rodgers show is always playing somewhere in the world -- on Broadway, in theaters in different countries, in local school productions.  And people all over the world still enjoy the movies linked to Richard Rodgers.  Movies with wonderful music such as "State Fair," "South Pacific," "Pal Joey," "The Sound of Music," "Oklahoma" and "Carousel."

This VOA Special English program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver.  I'm Mary Tillotson. And I'm Shirley Griffith.  Join us again next week for another PEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.

(MUSIC: "Carousel Waltz")


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Source: Richard Rodgers, 1902-1979: A Man of a Thousand Songs
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