U.S. composer, one of the major U.S. creators of the musical (born Jan. 27, 1885, New York, N.Y., U.S. — died Nov. 11, 1945, New York City).
Kern studied music in his native New York City and in Heidelberg, Ger., and he later gained theatrical experience in London. Returning to New York, he worked as a pianist and salesman for music publishers and wrote new numbers for European operettas. In 1912 he composed The Red Petticoat, the first musical to contain only his own music; its success was surpassed by Very Good Eddie (1915). Subsequent musicals include Oh, Boy! (1917) and Sally (1920). In 1927 his Show Boat, based on Edna Ferber's novel and with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, became the first American musical with a serious plot drawn from a literary source; it represents a landmark in the history of musical theatre. It was followed by The Cat and the Fiddle (1931), Music in the Air (1932), and Roberta (1933). After 1933 he composed for Hollywood. Kern's classic songs include “The Song Is You,” “All the Things You Are,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “Ol' Man River.”