Stephen Sondheim Lyrics

The composer and lyricist Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in 1930 to a wealthy New York dress manufacturer. When his parents divorced, he moved with his mother to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

He went to the George School, a private school in Newtown. In Bucks County the young Stephen turned out to be in the right place at the right time. One of his mother’s neighbours was Oscar Hammerstein II, who was working on the musical Oklahoma! and it didn’t take long for the adolescent boy to realize that he was fascinated by musical theatre.

He studied music at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and composition with Milton Babbitt. Like Hammerstein, he wrote the occasional pop song (with Jule Styne for Tony Bennett) and dabbled in films, but, like Hammerstein, he always returned to the theatre.

His initial success was in 1957 as a lyricist for Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, followed by Jule Styne’s Gypsy in 1959. He wrote the music and lyrics for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Company. Anyone Can Whistle, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along and Assassins were not so well received by the critics. He found success again with Do I Hear A Waltz? Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George as well as Into the Woods. His musical Passion opened on May 9, 1994. He was President of the Council of the Dramatist Guild from 1973 to 1981. In 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was appointed the first Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University in 1990. Stephen Sondheim received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985 for Sunday in the Park with George.

He is the only composer in the world to win seven Tony Awards. He was the recipient of the Kennedy Centre Honours in 1993 and he received the National Medal of Arts Award in 1997. In 2000, he was awarded the Praemium Imperiale, Japan’s highest cultural honour, for his lifetime of artistic achievement and in December 2002 he received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Richard Rodgers Award. In the summer of 2002, six of his shows were presented in Washington, DC as part of the Kennedy Centre’s Sondheim Celebration.

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