Today is the 92nd birthday of the composer John Kander. His songs and soundtracks are some of the post popular and immediately recognizable pieces of the last half of the 20th century. The world is a better place because he is in it.
NAME: John Kander
DATE OF BIRTH: March 18, 1927
PLACE OF BIRTH: Kansas City, MO
TONY AWARD, Composer and Lyricist, 1967, for Cabaret
TONY AWARD , Original Score, 1981, for Woman Of The Year
TONY AWARD , Original Score, 1993, for Kiss Of The Spiderwoman
DRAMA DESK AWARD, Outstanding Lyrics, 2010, for The Scottsboro Boys
LAURENCE OLIVIER AWARD, 1998, for the London production of Chicago
EMMY AWARD, 1973, for Liza With A Z
EMMY AWARD, 1993, for Liza Minnelli Live! From Radio City Music Hall
GRAMMY AWARD, 1967, for Cabaret, Original Cast Album
GRAMMY AWARD, 1998, for Chicago, Musical Show Album
SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME 1983
KENNEDY CENTER HONOR 1998
John Kander was born on March 18, 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri. His father, Harold S. Kander, worked in his father-in-law’s egg and poultry business, while instilling a love of life and a healthy interest in the arts in John and his brother, Edward. Kander’s parents regularly brought their two sons to local theater and orchestra concerts, and every year treated them to a trip to New York City to see theater. Kander attended his first opera performances at the age of nine, when the San Carlo Opera came to Kansas City with their productions of Aida and Madama Butterfly. According to Kander, “My mother took me and we sat in the first row. There were these giants on the stage, and my feet were dangling over my seat. It was overwhelming for me, even though I could see the strings that held the beards on the Egyptian soldiers…. My interest in telling a story through music in many ways derived from early experiences like those.” Kander was raised in Kansas City, and attended Westport High School, before transferring to the Pembroke Country-Day School.
During the 1940s, Kander joined the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. After completing his training in California and sailing between San Francisco and Asia, Kander left the Corps on May 3, 1946. However, due to rule changes governing national service, he was forced to enlist in the Army Reserves in September of the same year, after having already completed one semester at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. During the Korean War, Kander was ordered back into active duty, but he was forced to remain in New York City for six months of observation after a medical physical revealed scars on his lungs. He was officially discharged on July 3, 1957.
Kander studied music at Oberlin College and Columbia University, where he was a protégé of Douglas Moore and studied composition with Jack Beeson and Otto Luening. He received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1953. Following his studies, John Kander began conducting at summer theaters before serving as a rehearsal pianist for the musical West Side Story by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins in New York. While working, Kander met the choreographer, Jerome Robbins, who suggested that Kander compose the dance music for the show in 1959. After that experience, he wrote dance arrangements for Irma la Douce in 1960.
John Kander’s first produced musical was A Family Affair in 1962, written with James and William Goldman. The same year, Kander met Fred Ebb through their mutual publisher, Tommy Volando. The first song Kander and Ebb wrote together, “My Coloring Book”, was made popular by a recording from Sandy Stewart and their second song, “I Don’t Care Much”, was made famous by Barbra Streisand and made Kander and Ebb a permanent team. In 1965, Kander and Ebb landed their first show on Broadway, Flora the Red Menace, produced by Hal Prince, directed by George Abbott, and with book by George Abbott and Robert Russell, in which Liza Minnelli made her Broadway debut. Kander and Ebb have since been associated with writing material for both Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, and have produced special material for their appearances live and on television.
The musicals Cabaret and Chicago have been made into films; the film version of Chicago won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Picture.
Kander, along with Ebb, also wrote songs for Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and it was set to premiere in London, but the rights were pulled by Wilder’s nephew. He also says that Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, the writers of The Fantasticks, wrote a musical of Wilder’s Our Town and it took them thirteen years to write, only to have the rights pulled as well by the nephew.
His first musical without Fred Ebb in many years, The Landing, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on October 23, 2013. The musical, which was a series of three “mini-musicals” was directed by Walter Bobbie and starred David Hyde Pierce and Julia Murney.
Kander’s musical, Kid Victory, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, had its world premiere February 28, 2015 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. Kid Victory premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on February 1, 2017 in previews, and opened officially on February 22, 2017. Direction is by Liesl Tommy with choreography by Christopher Windom. The cast features Jeffry Denman and Karen Ziemba.
In 2010, Kander married dancer and choreographer Albert Stephenson, his partner since 1977, in Toronto. Kander’s great-nephew, Jason Kander, was the former Missouri Secretary of State.
A Family Affair (1962) – lyrics by William Goldman
Flora the Red Menace (1965)
Go Fly a Kite (1966) – music and lyrics also by Walter Marks
The Happy Time (1968)
70, Girls, 70 (1971)
The Act (1978)
Woman of the Year (1981)
The Rink (1984)
Diamonds (1984) – two songs: “Winter In New York” and “Diamonds Are Forever”
And The World Goes ‘Round (1991)
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992)
Steel Pier (1997)
Over and Over (1999) – working title: The Skin Of Our Teeth
The Visit (2001)
Curtains (2006) – additional lyrics by Rupert Holmes
All About Us (2007 revision of Over and Over)
The Scottsboro Boys (2010) (Some lyrics written by Kander himself, after Ebb’s death)
The Landing (2013) – lyrics by Greg Pierce
Kid Victory (2015) – lyrics by Greg Pierce
Cabaret (1972) – 12 songs (mostly originally from the musical of the same name)
Funny Lady (1975) – 6 songs
Lucky Lady (1976) – 2 songs
A Matter of Time, aka Nina (1976) – 2 songs
New York, New York (1977) – 4 songs
French Postcards (1979) – 1 song
Stepping Out (1991) – 1 song (“Stepping Out”)
Chicago (2002) – 15 songs (mostly originally from the musical of the same name, plus one song cut from the original show, which runs under the end credits)
Something for Everyone (1970)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Still of the Night (1982)
Blue Skies Again (1983)
Places in the Heart (1984)
An Early Frost (TV film, NBC, 1985)
I Want to Go Home (1989)
Billy Bathgate (1991)
Breathing Lessons (TV film, CBS, 1994)
The Boys Next Door (TV film, CBS, 1996)
Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back (1973) (Frank Sinatra)
Liza with a Z (1972)
Gypsy In My Soul (1976) (Shirley MacLaine)
Baryshnikov on Broadway (1980)
Liza In London (1986)
Sam Found Out, A Triple Play (1988)
Liza Minnelli, Live From Radio City Music Hall (1992)