Jerome Kern was one of the most significant composers of American musical theatre. He wrote more than 100 scores for stage and film musicals with more than 700 songs.
Born in New York on January 27, 1885, Kern first started learning music with his mother, then at his high school in Newark, New Jersey, followed by studies at the New York College of Music. Two more years of musical training in Germany followed, before Kern started working as a professional musician and composer, first in London, then in New York. He also lived in California.
Kern’s best known musical is probably Show Boat, from 1927. The story is based on Edna Ferber’s 1926 Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same title. Show boats were theaters that traveled along U.S. rivers from the 1870s to the 1930s. Their performances provided entertainment for small towns along the rivers.Show Boat was so popular that it was made into a movie three times: in 1929, in 1936 starring Paul Robeson, and in 1951 starring Ava Gardner. It also became part of the standard repertory of the New York City Opera in 1954. Famous songs from this musical are “Old Man River,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “Make Believe.”
Jerome Kern collaborated with many famous lyricists of his time. They include Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the libretto to Show Boat. Otto Harbach was the lyricist for the 1933 musical Roberta with its well-known song “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Dorothy Fields wrote the words to “The Way You Look Tonight,” for the 1936 musical comedy Swing Time. That song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Another song that won the Academy Award in 1941 was “The Last Time I Saw Paris” with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. This was a song from the film musical Lady Be Good. More songs were nominated for the prestigious prize, including “Long Ago (and Far Away)” written to lyrics by Ira Gershwin for the 1944 musical Cover Girl.
Many stars interpreted Kern’s music, including Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole, Fred Astaire, Sonny Rollins, Tony Bennett, and others. Jerome Kern’s famous songs have become standards in jazz music. They take an important place in American music history and continue to inspire their audience.
Jerome Kern died in New York on November 11, 1945.
Researchers may be interested in the Jerome Kern collection, 1905-1945 at The Library of Congress Music Division, and may want to read the blog Nice Work If You Can Get It: George Gershwin and Jerome Kern.
Below is a selection of accessible materials available here at NLS related to Jerome Kern. You may download them from BARD, or you may borrow digital cartridges or braille copies. Just send us an email ([email protected]), or call 1-800-424-8567, then press option 2 for the Music Section.
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. For bass guitar. (DBM02367)
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. For guitar. (DBM02291)
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. For piano (DBM02904)
Ferber, Edna. Show Boat. (DB45882)
Harbach, Bill. Bill Harbach. Interview with Otto Harbach’s son who reminisces about his father’s contribution to musical comedy. “Cuddle Up a Little Closer” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” are two of his well-known songs. (DBM00926)
Jerome Kern. Man of Melody. Friends discuss Jerome Kern’s legendary career. (DBM00156)
Master of the Medium. The Man Who Found the Silver Lining: Jerome Kern. Discusses Jerome Kern’s career as writer of show tunes. (DBM00613)
Messenger, Bill. Great American Music. Broadway Musicals. Great Courses Lecture (DBM02875)
Stempel, Larry. Showtime. A History of the Broadway Musical Theater. (DB75548)
All the Things You Are. From Very Warm for May. For voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM29282)
All the Things You Are. From Very Warm for May. For voice and accompaniment. Popular Music Lead Sheets no. 35. Lead sheet format. (BRM29298)
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man. From Show Boat. For voice and accompaniment. Popular Music Lead Sheets no. 49. Lead sheet format. (BRM29644)
The Last Time I Saw Paris. From Lady Be Good. For voice and accompaniment. Popular Music Lead Sheets no. 118. Lead sheet format. (BRM36258)
Long Ago and Far Away. From Cover Girl. For voice and piano. Paragraph and bar over bar formats. (BRM21175)
Ol’ Man River. From Show Boat. For low voice and piano. (BRM08822)
Ol’ Man River. From Show Boat. For low voice and piano. Section by section and bar over bar formats. (BRM06898)
Selections from Show Boat, arranged for Hammond spinet model organ. Bar over bar format. (BRM33739)
Selections from Show Boat, arranged for Hammond spinet model organ. Bar over bar format. (BRM27129)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. From Roberta. For voice and piano. Bar over bar format. (BRM33629)
The Way You Look Tonight. From Swing Time. For voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM23279)
Works, vocal. Selections from The Jerome Kern Album, arranged for all organs. Bar over bar format. (BRM24619)
Yesterdays. From Roberta. For voice and piano. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM27035)
Best Loved Songs of the American People. Edited by Denes Agay. Includes “Ol’ Man River.” (LPM00637)