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Caesar, Irving (04 July 1895–17 December 1996), songwriter, was born Isidore Caesar in New York City's Henry Street settlement, the son of Morris Caesar, the owner of a secondhand bookstore, and Sophia Selinger Caesar. He attended the Chappaqua Mountain Institute, graduated from New York City's Townsend Harris Hall High School in 1914, and was briefly enrolled at the City College of New York before going to Detroit in 1915 to work for the Ford Motor Company as a mechanic. Caesar also served as secretary to ...

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Carol J. Oja and Hannah Lewis

Comden, Betty (03 May 1917–23 November 2006), and Adolph Green (02 December 1914–23 October 2002), librettists, lyricists, and screenwriters of the musical comedy duo Comden and Green, collaborated together for six decades, the longest of any writing team in the history of American musicals. Comden was born Basya Cohen in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Leo Cohen, a lawyer, and Rebecca Cohen, a teacher. Comden Americanized her first name as a young child and her last name as a teenager. Green was born in the Bronx, the son of Daniel and Helen Green. Both were children of Jewish immigrants, and both graduated from New York high schools: Erasmus Hall (her) and DeWitt Clinton (him). They met when Comden was studying dramatics at New York University and Green was working as a runner on Wall Street while trying to make it as an actor. When Comden graduated in 1938, the pair began collaborating as part of a group called The Revuers. Comden was entering a profession with very few women. Working as an actress was one thing—many women did that—but it was an entirely different matter to write scripts and lyrics. Up until then only a few women had succeeded in that realm, most notably ...

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See Comden, Betty

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Grey, Clifford (05 January 1887–25 September 1941), librettist, lyricist, and bobsledder, was born Percival Davis in Birmingham, England, the son of George Davis, a whip manufacturer, and Emma Lowe Davis. He was educated at the Camp Hill School for Boys, one of the schools of King Edward the Sixth in Birmingham, winning Latin and English prizes and becoming interested in theatrics....

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Larson, Jonathan (04 February 1960–25 January 1996), composer-lyricist-librettist of Rent, a rock opera inspired by La Bohème, composer-lyricist-librettist of Rent, a rock opera inspired by La Bohème, was born in Mt. Vernon, New York, and raised in suburban White Plains, the second child of Allan S. Larson, a direct-marketing executive, and Nanette Notarius Larson. Both parents loved music and theater; show tunes and folk music were always playing in their home. Both Larson and his sister took piano lessons during elementary school. The boy could play by ear, and his teacher encouraged him to experiment with rhythm, harmony, and setting words. By high school, he was called the “Piano Man” after the enormously popular song of that title by Billy Joel. He also played tuba in the marching band. Active in school and community theater, Larson had major roles in several musicals....

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Mercer, Johnny (18 November 1909–25 June 1976), popular composer, lyricist, and singer, was born John Herndon Mercer in Savannah, Georgia, the son of George Mercer, an attorney, and Lillian Ciucevich. Throughout his childhood Mercer was fascinated with the popular songs of the day as well as by Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and the blues and spirituals of southern blacks. From 1922 to 1927 he attended Virginia’s Woodbury Forest Preparatory School, where he wrote light verse and songs. Shortly after graduation he pursued a career as an actor and singer in New York. There he married Ginger Meehan, a dancer, in 1931 and soon had two children. While his acting career languished, success as a songwriter came in 1933 when he collaborated with ...

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Porter, Cole (09 June 1891–15 October 1964), songwriter, was born in Peru, Indiana, the son of Samuel Fenwick Porter, a druggist and farmer, and Kate Cole. His mother (who added Cole’s middle name, Albert, later) arranged to have one of his songs published when he was eleven. Porter’s education at Worcester Academy, Yale (B.A., 1913), and Harvard’s law and music schools (1914–1915) was financed by his maternal grandfather, James Omar Cole....

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Stein, Gertrude (03 February 1874–27 July 1946), author, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Daniel Stein, a businessman, and Amelia Keyser. Stein spent her early years in Europe, where her parents were traveling; the family returned to America in 1879, settling the following year in Oakland, California, where Stein spent the rest of her youth. Of Oakland she was later to remark, “There is no there there.” She countered the bland, suburban surroundings by reading voraciously: Shakespeare, Scott, Richardson, Fielding, Wordsworth....

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Swift, Kay (19 April 1897–28 January 1993), composer, lyricist, and songwriter, was born Katharine Faulkner Swift in New York City, the daughter of Samuel Swift, a music critic, and Ellen Faulkner Swift, an interior decorator. She began her musical studies at the age of seven, later won a scholarship to the Institute of Musical Arts (now the Juilliard School), and in 1920–1921 attended the New England Conservatory, where she studied piano with Heinrich Gebhard and composition with ...