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Kander, John (18 March 1927-Present)

Composer born in Kansas City, Missouri, who is best known for his musical theatre collaborations with Fred Ebb.  John matriculated from Oberlin College and Columbia University and embarked on his lucrative Broadway adventure in humble enough style, subbing for the rehearsal pianist on a production of West Side Story.

It was enough to get him a foot in the door, however.  He was asked by the stage manager to play the piano at the auditions for Gypsy, and choreographer Jerome Robbins was so impressed, he asked John to compose music for the dance sequences in the show.  This led to similar duties for Irma la Douce.

John was ambitious enough by now to cut his teeth on his first stage musical as the main composer, and working in concert with James and William Goldman, he wrote the music for A Family Affair.  It did not exactly set the world on fire.

In the mid-’60s, he began a creative partnership with lyricist Fred Ebb that would span almost four decades.  The two of them wrote the music for Flora the Red Menace, which closed after a couple of months, but made a star out of Liza Minnelli.  They also penned a couple of songs for a young Barbara Streisand, “I Don’t Care Much” and “My Coloring Book”.

Success was not far away:  In 1966, the pair wrote music and lyrics for Cabaret, which would win them both Tonys, as well as Best Musical.  Their next few musicals didn’t do much, but in 1969, John embarked on a second career as a film composer, scoring Something For Everyone.  He also wrote some new music, in tandem with Ebb, for the 1972 film adaptation of Cabaret, and the sequel to Funny GirlFunny Lady, in 1975.  That was the same year that the duo enjoyed their second major Broadway coup with Chicago, about a murderess who tries to turn her crime into show business capital.  The show ran for over two years, and has enjoyed a revival and been turned into an Oscar-winning film.

In 1976, Kander and Ebb were asked to write the title track to Martin Scorcese’s New York, New York, and it has since become not only a signature song for Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra, but the city itself.  Other film work followed:  John wrote the music for 1979’s Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer, as well as 1984’s Places in the Heart and 1991’s Billy Bathgate.  The same year that Billy Bathgate was making a bee-line from theatres to video, And the World Goes Round, a celebration of Kander and Ebb tunes, was chugging along happily off-Broadway, and its creators were honoured with induction into the New York Theater Hall of Fame.

This was right around the time that Kander and Ebb’s latest offering, the Broadway adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman, was just getting its legs.  It debuted in Toronto and crossed the Atlantic to England before enjoying a 906-performance run on Broadway, and garnering a Tony Award for Best Score.

In 1996, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers honoured John with their prestigious President’s Award.  A couple of years later, he and Ebb received the coveted Kennedy Center Honors.  In 2000, New York City’s York Theatre Company handed them the Oscar Hammerstein Lifetime Achievement Award.  John Kander has been a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame since his induction in 1983.

On 22nd March 2007, his last project, started with the late Fred Ebb, Curtains, made its debut on the Broadway boards.  The musical murder mystery, completed with the aid of singer-songwriter Rupert Holmes, received eight Tony nominations, and ex-Frasier foil David Hyde-Pierce converted with an award for Best Performance.

In 2015  his musical Kid Victory had the world premiere in Arlington, Virgina, and later it premiered off-Broadway in February 2017.

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