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Ebb, Fred (8 April 1928 – 11 September 2004)

Lyricist born in Manhattan, New York, who had little or no interest in musical theatre until he was well into his twenties, having matriculated from New York University and Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts and Masters degree in English Literature, respectively.

He began a collaboration with Phil Springer and together they wrote “Heartbroken”, which was recorded by Judy Garland, “How Little We Know”, “I Never Loved Him Anyhow”, which was recorded by Carmen McRae, “Moonlight Gambler” and “Nevertheless I Never Lost the Blues”.

In the early ’60s, Tommy Valando introduced him to John Kander and together they became one of Broadway’s most enduring songwriting partnerships.  They wrote “My Coloring Book” which was recorded by a young Barbra Streisand and their first musical was called Golden Gate but it never saw the footlights.  Flora the Red Menace ran for just over two months, but turned Liza Minnelli into a Tony-winning star.  Its follow-up, Cabaret, ran from 20th November 1966 through 6th September 1969 and garnered eight Tonys, including a Best Lyricist award for Ebb.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s Kander and Ebb penned a string of forgettable productions:  The Happy Time70, Girls, 70, and Zorbaall came and went in less than a year.  It wasn’t until 1975’s Chicago that the duo enjoyed another commercial success:  The controversial musical about women in prison ran from 3rd June 1975 through 27th August 1977.  Martin Scorcese hired them to write the theme song for New York, New York, which has since become a signature song for Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra.

In 1980, Ebb produced a pair of TV specials, Baryshinikov on Broadway and Goldie and Liza Together.  A year later, he reunited with Kander for Woman of the Year, a vehicle for Lauren Bacall which won a Tony for Best Score and in 1983 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 1984, the pair renewed their longtime collaboration with Liza Minnelli and Chicago star Chita Rivera with The Rink, which ran for about six months.  They co-penned a song for a revival of Hay Fever in 1985, but that was their last theatrical endeavor together until 1991’s And The World Goes ‘Round, an off-Broadway affair featuring Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and Karen Ziemba.  A couple of years hence, they would strike gold again with Kiss of the Spider Woman, again starring Chita Rivera, and again winning them a Tony for Best Score.

Ebb and Kander received a Mr. Abbott Award in 1996 from the Stage Directors & Choreographers Foundation.  In 1997, the pair wrote Steel Pier, which earned the dubious distinction of racking up eleven Tony nominations for but closing after only two months.  A year later, they received the lauded Kennedy Center Honors and the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award.

They were working on Curtains:  A Backstage Murder Mystery Musical Comedy when Fred Ebb died of a heart attack on 11th September 2004.  The next two nights’ shows of a Chicago revival on Broadway were dedicated to him by the cast.

In 2005, The Fred Ebb Foundation gave out its inaugural award for an up-and-coming musical composer.  Some of the winners have been John Bucchino, Robert L. Freedman, Steven Lutvak, and Peter Mills.

Frank Sinatra recordings
Theme from New York, New York (Fred Ebb/John Kander)