On StageAt The Kennedy Center Arts in the Capital
Government in the Arts
Past Performances
The Richard Rodgers GalaThe Richard Rodgers Gala

From The Ceremony
The Performers
About Rodgers
Pop Quiz


Biography   -    Memories    -    Timeline

Gala performers remember the man and reflect on the legacy of Richard Rodgers. Listed alphabetically.

Kristin Chenoweth
You know, I think Richard Rodgers' legacy is different for every person. For me, it represents America. I grew up studying all these famous composers, but they were all from another place. This guy is from [...] where I'm from.

I think that's his legacy. I mean he's a one of a kind, American composer. I, for one, was so lucky to grow up and have that influence [...] as a musician and as a singer.

Shirley Jones
Well, the story - Iím not sure that everybody knows, although Iíve told it, is how I came to know Rodgers and Hammerstein. I mean itís an incredible story that I tell frequently.

But I was on my way to college, and I was just out of high school — 18 years old. And I stopped in New York with my parents, and I knew a pianist here that I had worked with at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, because thatís my home, and Iíd studied during my high school years in the summertime and so forth. Beause I was always able to sing. That was a gift that was given to me.

And I worked with the piano a little bit, and he said, "Listen, theyíre having open auditions for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammersteinís casting director today." And, because they had three shows running on Broadway at that time. And so every week, they would just have an open audition for anybody who wanted to sing for them, so they could keep replacing the chorus people, because their shows ran so long, you know. He said, "Why donít you try it?"

And I said, "No, Iím going to college." This was July, and I was going to college in September.

He said, "Oh, just see what happens."

Well, I did. Worked up three songs with this wonderful pianist that I knew, went into the theater, sang for the casting director, and he said, "Miss Jones, what have you done?"

And I said, "Nothing" — (chuckling) — and he said, "Well, Richard Rodgers just happens to be across the street rehearsing his orchestra for Oklahoma, which was about to open at City Center and then go back on another tour. And he said, "I would like him to hear you personally." Now, you understand I wasnít even sure who Richard Rodgers was. I was 18 — barely 18 — had never had a professional audition of any kind, you know, and had barely worked in the theater at all. A little, a few things in Pittsburgh.

So, I said, "Okay."

So, in walks this gentleman, down the aisle of the theater, and I could barely see him. And he said, "Miss Jones?" I said, "Yes? What did you say your name was again?" Well, I didnít do too well with Mr. Richard Rodgers — [chuckling] — but he forgave me. He said, "Iím Richard Rodgers. Iíd like to hear you sing."

I sang for him, and he said, "Shirley, could you wait 20 minutes? Iím gonna call Oscar Hammerstein at home and have him come and hear you."

Now, my first audition for anybody, and my pianist piped up, and he said, "Shirley, I canít wait 20 minutes." He was catching an airplane. It was some kind of a holiday weekend. He said, "I canít wait."

And Richard Rodgers said, "Well, never mind. We have the full symphony orchestra across the street. You can come and sing with the symphony."

Now, you understand I had never seen a symphony, heard a symphony, let alone sing with one. Oscar arrived, and he said, "Shirley, do you know the score of Oklahoma? And I said, "Well, I know the music. I donít think I know the words." Of course, Iím speaking to the lyricist, you understand.

He said, "Well, never mind. I have a score." He handed me a score, and the two gentlemen took me across the street. And with a score in front of my face, I sang, "Oklahoma," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," and "People will Say Weíre in Love" with the full City Center orchestra.

And at that point, Richard Rodgers said, "Listen, we have an opening in South Pacific. We would like you to go into the chorus of South Pacific. We have something in mind for you, which we wonít discuss at the moment."

Well, of course, my decision was not to go to college at that point. My parents said, "Of course, you must try. You must stay in New York." Went into South Pacific the last six months of the show, and within a year ... the thing that they had in mind for me, of course, was the lead role in the motion picture of Oklahoma. Within a year of that very first audition, I was starring in a major motion picture called Oklahoma, playing Laurie.

Audra McDonald
Without oversimplifying, I think that without Richard Rodgers there would not be the musical theater that we know today. Of course, we had composers like George Gershwin beforehand, who were coming out of a vaudeville sensibility and sort of a tin-pan alley sensibility. But Richard Rodgers really found the American musical theater voice. If you've sung in musical theater, you've sung a Richard Rodgers song. You can't get around it.

Sylvia McNair
Isn't it amazing that Richard Rodgers had two almost separate, 20-year careers? I mean the body of work that he created for 20 years with Larry Hart is already more than most composers can claim in a lifetime.

Then he began another 20-year relationship with Oscar Hammerstein, II. And, of course, the most famous of Richard Rodgers' music is from that second 20-year career. So, that gives all of us hope that in our second career we're going to do our best work yet.

I have been trained as a classical singer, and I've been making my living as a classical singer. And I can certainly tell you that, of all the composers who wrote for the American musical theater — and I've sung a lot of songs by Jerome Kearn, George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim — there is something very singable about the tunes by Richard Rodgers. In fact, I'm told that he was very particular about how his melodies were sung. If he wrote a dotted half note, you didn't hold it for a split second longer than three beats. That was it. He wanted the singer to stick to what was on the page. He didn't really appreciate singers taking a lot of liberties with what he wrote.

But as a singer with a classically trained voice, I find his melodies give me a chance to use my instrument, use my voice. And I find that I actually need a lot of the training I've had to really fill up what he put down on the page.

Rita Moreno
At the risk of diminishing other talents — I do think that musical theater really became rock-solid because of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart. There were musicals before them, to be sure. But nobody put a more of a stamp on what the American musical was than Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein and Hart — nobody. And nobody, nobody has equalled the works of these fantastic people.

John Raitt
Another favorite story I have of Dick Rodgers: they were in Stockholm, Sweden, for the premiere performance "Oklahoma." And as they were backstage receiving the accolades from the press, the critics -- one of the critics walked up to Oscar and said, "How do you enjoy the translation?" It was done in Swedish, of course. "He said - I don't understand Swedish." And Dick Rodgers, standing alongside said, "I just love the music."

Samuel Ramey
I never approach anything I do differently in a vocal sense. I mean I think there may be something subconscious that you do differently from opera to musical theater; but certainly nothing consciously that one does to change any vocal technique or anything. So, I can only speak for myself, but I certainly approach one of his songs as I would an aria.

I think Mr. Rodgers has certainly left American theater a fantastic legacy. I mean just hit show after hit show, and all of the shows, are just one hit tune after another. They're just -- they're just amazing, I think, just fantastic.

Leonard Slatkin
I think thereís one other thing thatís worth pointing out, which may have more to do with the book than the music, but itís something we need to think about. Rodgers and Hammerstein - more so than the Hart collaborations - dealt with social issues. They dealt with labor unrest. They dealt in Carousel with wife-beating. They deal with stereotypes and how to, hopefully, avoid them. But these were issues that were kept suppressed during their time.

When we come to todayís view of his work, now we can bring them out, and we can see that the message of the music and the words is more than just a simplistic view of the typical Broadway stage.

Most of Rodgersí singable tunes fall in a comfortable range of about ten to 12 notes. They tend not to leap further than that. And a lot of them operate in scale-wise patterns, rather than going up and down. In that sense, thereís a similarity to Irving Berlin. But [...] the harmonies underneath are much more sophisticated. But I think if you look at the music as singable music, itís because they operate in patterns that go in scales, rather than leaps.

Itís hard to imagine going through any year without playing anything of Richard Rodgersí. One of our staples has always been "Carousel Waltz," played every year somewhere. We love it. Itís our answer to Johan Strauss. Very few programs now with singers, even if they come from the operatic world, go without featuring some beautiful words and music that were created at least with Richard Rodgers as one half of the team. So, Rodgers is as much a part of our culture as Gershwin is, Bernstein is, Copeland is, Samuel Barber is. Heís unforgettable and someone itís impossible to do without.