One of Rodgers and Hammerstein's greatest creations, the musical South Pacific opened at the Majestic Theatre on 7 April 1949 and ran for 1,925 performances. Combining two short stories by James Michener about love on a Pacific island in the Second World War, South Pacific won numerous awards including the Pulitzer prize for drama.
Musical highlights include the songs There's Nothing Like a Dame, I'm Goin' to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, and Some Enchanted Evening. A popular film version starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi was released in 1958, and the musical continues to enjoy regular revivals.
Along with his collaborators Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers wrote some of the best-loved American musicals of the 20th Century. Such classics as Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The King and I all feature the music of Richard Rodgers.
Rodgers was born in New York on 28 June 1902, the second son of immigrant Russian Jews. His father was an enthusiastic singer who enjoyed singing the latest Broadway tunes to the accompaniment of his wife's piano playing. Richard showed early promise at the piano and in 1917 had copyrighted his first song and completed his first amateur musical.
In late 1918 or early 1919, Rodgers was introduced to lyricist Lorenz Hart, his exclusive collaborator for 26 Broadway shows and nine films over the next 24 years. Their ultimately successful partnership had a slow start, however, and Rodgers almost gave up music to become a babies' underwear salesman.
Between 1931 and 1935 the pair, now much more successful, spent most of their time in Hollywood creating film musicals (including Love Me Tonight and The Phantom President), but in 1935 they returned to Broadway with Jumbo. This initiated a 15-year period of unparalleled success in which virtually every show of Rodgers' was a major hit.
Rodgers and Hart's final show was By Jupiter in 1942. Hart, suffering from alcoholism, was unwilling to collaborate on Oklahoma!, so Rodgers joined forces with Hammerstein and began an even more remarkable series of musicals. Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'integrated' musical, established by the record-breaking Oklahoma!, provided the model for an entire era of Broadway shows.
Together Rodgers and Hammerstein produced such hits as Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music before the partnership was once again broken when Hammerstein died of cancer. Rodgers became his own librettist for a while and also collaborated with Stephen Sondheim. In later years he was beset by health problems, developing cancer of the jaw. Still, the international success of the filmed version of The Sound of Music and the revival of Oklahoma! just three weeks before his death, ensured that his legacy would live on.
Rodgers died on 30 December 1979, survived by his wife, Dorothy and two daughters, Mary and Linda. His contributions to American popular culture rank him alongside Jerome Kern, a composer he admired greatly, as a pioneer in the development of musical theatre. With frequent revivals of his musicals, many of which were immortalised on film, his music is still heard throughout the world.