This year, The Year of Tony Bennett will be featuring a songwriter each month and will focus on the songs by that songwriter recorded by Tony Bennett.
Our first songwriter of the month, for January 2016, is Jerome Kern.
Jerome David Kern was born on January 27, 1885 in New York to Henry Kern, a Jewish German immigrant, and Fannie Kern, an American Jew of Bohemian ancestry. Kern grew up on East 56th Street and attended public schools in Manhattan. He exhibited some musical talent as a boy and was taught to play piano by his mother, a pianist and teacher. In 1897, his family moved to Newark, New Jersey, and Jerome attended Newark High School and wrote songs for the first musical ever put on at the school. He also adapted Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the Newark Yacht Club.
Kern dropped out of high school, determined to be a composer. He studied at the New York College of Music and later in Heidelberg, Germany.
Upon his return, he worked as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway shows and as a song-plugger on Tin Pan Alley. He began contributing individual productions, gaining some notice, and his songs became popular in London, where he met and married his wife, Eva. He returned to the U.S. and wrote began writing scores for silent films, which led to his being one of the founders of ASCAP.
He wrote his first Broadway score in 1912 for The Red Petticoat and continued to write for both New York and London stages for the rest of the decade. In the 1920s, his fame grew; it was during this time that he wrote “Look For The Silver Lining.”
This led to his work with Oscar Hammerstein II on Show Boat, with whom he had a long, productive association. Show Boat, contained some of his best songs, including “Ol’ Man River,” “Can’t Help Loving Dat Man” and “Make Believe.”
In 1929, Kern made the move to Hollywood, where some of his greatest songs were written. He started working with the lyricist Dorothy Fields, with whom he wrote some of his great songs including “I Won’t Dance” and “Lovely To Look At” for Roberta and the score for Swing Time, including “The Way You Look Tonight.”
In 1945, Kern moved back to New York to oversee the casting for a revival of Show Boat and to start work on a new musical Annie Get Your Gun. In November of that year, while he was walking on Park Avenue, Jerome Kern suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. His long-time collaborator, Oscar Hammerstein was at his bedside at the time of his death.