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January 27: Jerome Kern

January 27, 2013

Jerome Kern, who wrote more than 700 songs for stage and film, including "Ol' Man River," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and "A Fine Romance," was born in New York on this date in 1885. In the course of a four-decade career, Kern created dozens of Broadway musicals and Hollywood films and collaborated with such lyricists and librettists as Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, and Yip Harburg. His most fruitful collaboration was with Hammerstein, with whom he created Showboat, considered to be the first modern musical and certainly Kern's most enduring full-length creation. In Hollywood, he collaborated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on Swing Time and also wrote songs for Cary Grant and Abbott and Costello movies. Kern was nominated eight times for an Academy Award, and won twice. He died at 60 in 1945 and was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

"Mr. Kern was a small, jovial man, with white hair and keen blue eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. He spoke in sporadic outburst and had a tremendous amount of nervous energy. He was an avid collector of rare books, and . . . (when), in January, 1929, he disposed of his great collection because it had become too much of a responsibility, the library brought $1,729,462. The next day he passed a bookshop, saw a rare volume and bought it--out of habit, he is supposed to have confessed." —New York Times obituary