AKA Jerome David Kern
Birthplace: New York City
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Cerebral Hemorrhage
Remains: Buried, Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, NY
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Show Boat
Composer Jerome Kern is best known for the musical adaptation of Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat. Stunning in its time for its groundbreaking presentation of interracial marriage, alcoholism, gambling, and wife desertion, it is the earliest American musical that remains familiar to modern audiences. For Show Boat his lyricist was Oscar Hammerstein II, and his collaborators on other productions included P. G. Wodehouse and Johnny Mercer. He wrote more than a thousand songs for more than a hundred stage productions and movies, including such American standards as "A Fine Romance" (the delightfully flirtatious number sung and danced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time), "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "The Last Time I Saw Paris", "Long Ago and Far Away", "Lovely to Look At", "Ol' Man River", "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", and "They Didn't Believe Me".
Beyond the marvelous melodies, Kern himself acknowledged that his life was not terribly interesting, describing himself as "a first-class stuffed shirt". There was no adversity to overcome -- he was raised in a well-off family, was always musically inclined, and published his first song, "At the Casino", while he was still in high school. At 16 he wrote a musical parody of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was staged by a local theater on his 17th birthday. He studied music for a few years in New York and Heidelberg, and was described as an adequate but not exceptional student. He had his first professional success on London's West End, and by the age of 20 his songs had been sung on stage on New York's Broadway.
He briefly dated an actress from one of his early Broadway plays, but married an English pub-owner's daughter. They were happily married until his death, taking frequent vacations on Kern's yacht Show Boat. He had a fondness for rare books and betting on horses, and he wrote a symphony inspired by Mark Twain's writings. The story of Kern's life was told in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By, with Robert Walker as Kern and the young, sultry Angela Lansbury singing Kern's early hit, "How'd You Like to Spoon with Me?"
His daughter, Betty Jane Kern, was the fourth of big band star Artie Shaw's eight wives, and later married film producer Jack Cummings, a nephew of Louis B. Mayer.
Father: Henry Kern (horsekeeper)
Mother: Fanny Kakeles
Girlfriend: Edith Kelly (actress, dated 1908)
Wife: Eva Leale (b. 1891, corresponded 1908-10, m. 25-Oct-1910, d. 1959, one daughter)
Daughter: Betty Jane Kern (b. 1913)
High School: Newark High School, Newark, NJ (1902)
University: New York College of Music (1903)
University: University of Heidelberg (attended 1903-04)
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1937 for "The Way You Look Tonight" from Swing Time (shared with lyricist Dorothy Fields)
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1942 for "The Last Time I Saw Paris" from Lady Be Good (shared with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II)
Songwriters Hall of Fame 1970 (posthumous)
Dutch Treat Club (1933-45)
Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #2110 (22¢, depicting Kern with sheet music, issued 26-Jan-1985)
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