Kander and partner Fred Ebb a Broadway and film powerhouse
Twenty musical scores and songs for eighteen films from 1962 to 2010; landmark hits "Cabaret" and "Chicago". Honored with National Medal of the Arts by President Obama in 2013
John Kander, the composer half of the legendary songwriting team, Kander and Ebb that has produced Cabaret, Woman of the Year, The Act and the incomparable Chicago, was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 18, 1927.
Kander began studying music as a child and in his early career worked as a conductor and accompanying pianist for many productions. From 1955 through 1958, Kander was choral director and conductor for the Warwick Musical Theatre in Rhode Island. He was also the pianist for The Amazing Adele and An Evening with Bea Lillie. He was the conductor for the 1957 New York revival of Conversation Piece and arranged the dance music for the productions of Gypsy (1959) and Irma la Douce (1960). Kander made his Broadway composing debut in a 1962 collaboration with James Goldman. The production, A Family Affair, was short lived but included hit songs such as “Anything For You”, “There’s a Room in My House” and “Harmony”.
In 1964, Kander was introduced to Fred Ebb, a lyricist who had experienced some minor success with novelty tunes.
The first successful Kander & Ebb collaboration was on the song "My Coloring Book," recorded by Kitty Kallen, Sandy Stewart, and Barbra Streisand. The duo's first stage musical, Golden Gate, went unrealized, but it did convince producer Harold Prince to hire them for his new Broadway show Flora, The Red Menace, a satire of Greenwich Village bohemian culture and radical politics that starred Liza Minnelli in her Tony Award-winning Broadway debut. Though not a hit, the show solidified Kander and Ebb as a team and Liza Minnelli as a star.
The next year, Prince commissioned Kander & Ebb to create the score for a musical version of I Am A Camera, which was to be produced under the name of Cabaret. In 1966, Cabaret opened, winning seven Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Score of the Season Award. The original production ran for 1,166 performances, has been revived three times and produced a 1972 film version starring Liza Minnelli (a role which earned her a Best Actress Oscar Award).
1968 produced two other musicals, The Happy Time and Zorba and three years later the team produced 70, Girls, 70. In 1972, Kander & Ebb wrote a number of songs for Minnelli’s television special, Liza With a Z, which received an Emmy for Outstanding Single Program - Variety or Popular Music.
After contributing five songs, including "How Lucky Can You Get" and "Let's Hear It For Me," to the 1975 movie Funny Lady, they launched the Broadway musical Chicago, which was largely overlooked during its original run but was revived to massive success two decades later. Chicago had another incarnation in 2002, when the film version received an Oscar for Best Picture and revived the movie musical.
In 1977, Kander & Ebb collaborated with Martin Scorsese on the movie New York, New York; the title song was introduced by Minnelli, and later recorded by Frank Sinatra, and became the unofficial theme song of New York City. The Minnelli Broadway vehicle The Act also opened that year.
After a four-year absence from Broadway, Kander and Ebb returned with 1981's Woman of the Year, which starred Lauren Bacall and was based on the 1942 Katharine Hepburn movie. The Rink, which opened in 1984, starred Chita Rivera and Minnelli, with the songs "Colored Lights", "Chief Cook and Bottle Washer," and "Mrs. A." In 1985, Kander & Ebb opened Kiss of the Spider Woman and Steel Pier in 1997.
For nearly five decades, Kander and Ebb have been one of Broadway's preeminent songwriting teams, the longest-running music-and-lyrics partnership in Broadway musical history. Minnelli once said, "The greatest thing about Kander and Ebb is you sing their songs and you feel good."
The greatest thing about Kander and Ebb is you sing their songs and you feel good.