John Kander

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John Kander
Birth name John Harold Kander
Born (1927-03-18) March 18, 1927 (age 91)
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
Genres Musical theatre, film, television
Occupation(s) Composer
Instruments Piano
Years active 1957–present
Associated acts Kander and Ebb

John Harold Kander (born March 18, 1927)[1] is the American composer of a number of musicals as part of the songwriting team of Kander and Ebb. His best-known stage musicals as composer are Cabaret and Chicago, both of which were later adapted into films.

Early life and education

John Kander was born to a Jewish family[2] on March 18, 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri.[1]

His father, Harold S. Kander, worked in his father-in-law's egg and poultry business, while instilling a love of life and a healthy interest in the arts[3] in John and his brother, Edward. His parents regularly brought their two sons to local theater and orchestra concerts, and every year treated them to a trip to New York City to see theater.[3]

Kander attended his first opera performances at the age of nine, when the San Carlo Opera came to Kansas City with their productions of Aida and Madama Butterfly. According to Kander, "My mother took me and we sat in the first row. There were these giants on the stage, and my feet were dangling over my seat. It was overwhelming for me, even though I could see the strings that held the beards on the Egyptian soldiers.... My interest in telling a story through music in many ways derived from early experiences like those."[3]

Kander was raised in Kansas City, and attended Westport High School, before transferring to the Pembroke Country-Day School. During the 1940s, Kander joined the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. After completing his training in California and sailing between San Francisco and Asia, Kander left the Corps on May 3, 1946.[3]

However, due to rule changes governing national service, he was forced to enlist in the Army Reserves in September of the same year, after having already completed one semester at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. During the Korean War, Kander was ordered back into active duty, but he was forced to remain in New York City for six months of observation after a medical physical revealed scars on his lungs. He was officially discharged on July 3, 1957.[3]

Kander studied music at Oberlin College and Columbia University, where he was a protégé of Douglas Moore[4] and studied composition with Jack Beeson and Otto Luening. He earned his master's degree from Columbia University in 1953.[1]


Following his studies, Kander began conducting at summer theaters before serving as a rehearsal pianist[1] for the musical West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins in New York. While working, Kander met the choreographer, Jerome Robbins, who suggested that Kander compose the dance music for the show in 1959.[citation needed] After that experience, he wrote dance arrangements for Irma la Douce in 1960.[5]

Kander's first produced musical was A Family Affair in 1962, written with James and William Goldman. The same year, Kander met Fred Ebb through their mutual publisher, Tommy Volando.[1] The first song Kander and Ebb wrote together, "My Coloring Book", was made popular by a recording from Sandy Stewart and their second song, "I Don't Care Much", was made famous by Barbra Streisand and Kander and Ebb became a permanent team.[1]

In 1965, Kander and Ebb wrote music for their first show on Broadway, Flora the Red Menace, produced by Hal Prince, directed by George Abbott, and with book by George Abbott and Robert Russell, in which Liza Minnelli made her Broadway debut.[6]

Kander and Ebb have since been associated with writing material for both Liza Minnelli[7][8] and Chita Rivera (includong the musicals Zorba, Chicago, The Rink, and Kiss of the Spider Woman) and have produced special material for their appearances live and on television.[citation needed]

The musicals Cabaret and Chicago have been made into films. The film version of Chicago won several 2002 Academy Awards, including for best picture, film editing, costume design, art direction and sound.[9]

Kander, along with Ebb, also wrote songs for Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, and it was set to premiere in London, but the rights were pulled by Wilder's nephew. He also says that Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, the writers of The Fantasticks, wrote a musical of Wilder's Our Town and it took them thirteen years to write, only to have the rights pulled as well by the nephew.[10]

His first musical without Ebb in many years, The Landing, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on October 23, 2013.[11] The musical, which was a series of three "mini-musicals" was directed by Walter Bobbie and starred David Hyde Pierce and Julia Murney.[12]

Kander's musical Kid Victory, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, had its world premiere February 28, 2015 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.[13] Kid Victory premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on February 1, 2017 in previews, and opened officially on February 22, 2017. Direction is by Liesl Tommy with choreography by Christopher Windom. The cast features Jeffry Denman and Karen Ziemba.[14]

Kander (music) and David Thompson (lyrics) wrote the dance play Beast in the Jungle which opened Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre. The play is directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, and features Tony Yazbeck and Irina Dvorovenko.[15]

Personal life

In 2010, Kander married dancer and choreographer Albert Stephenson, his partner since 1977, in Toronto.[16][17] Kander's grand-nephew, Jason Kander, was formerly the Missouri Secretary of State.[18]


Lyrics by Fred Ebb unless otherwise noted

Stage musicals

Film and television

Kander and Ebb also contributed songs for the following movies:

Film scores


The team also received numerous nominations, which include five additional Tony Awards, two Academy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards.

Kander, like Ebb, is also a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 1991.[21]

In 1998, Kander and Ebb received the Kennedy Center Honors award for Lifetime Achievement.[22]

In 2018, Kander was awarded the Stephen Sondheim award by Tony-winning Signature Theater.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Green, Stanley (1984). The World of Musical Comedy: The Story of the American Musical Stage as Told through the Careers of Its Foremost Composers and Lyricists. New York, NY: Da Capo. p. 331. ISBN 0498023443. 
  2. ^ Bloom, Nate (June 10, 2011). "Jewish Stars 6/10". Cleveland Jewish News. Retrieved January 5, 2018. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Leve, James (2009). Kander and Ebb (Yale Broadway Masters Series). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0300114877. 
  4. ^ John Kander (April 7, 2010). "Passing Through Curtains". NewMusicBox (Interview). Interviewed by Frank J. Oteri (published May 1, 2010). 
  5. ^ " 'Irma la Douce' Production Team" Playbill, retrieved January 10, 2018
  6. ^ Flora the Red Menace Playbill, retrieved January 10, 2018
  7. ^ " Liza, 1974" Playbill, retrieved January 10, 2018
  8. ^ Schillinger, Liesl. "Suddenly Liza" NYMagazine, retrieved January 10, 2018
  9. ^ Lyman, Rick. " 'Chicago' Is Big Oscar Winner, but 'Pianist' Surprises; Hollywood Glamour Still Stars at Ceremony, but Security and War Play Supporting Roles" The New York Times, March 24, 2003
  10. ^ Cerasaro, Pat. "InDepth InterView: John Kander",, November 2, 2010.
  11. ^ "John Kander, Greg Pierce and Nicky Silver announced for 2013-14 Season". Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  12. ^ Staff. "The Verdict: Critics Review John Kander-Greg Pierce Musical 'The Landing', Starring David Hyde Pierce, Off-Broadway",, October 24, 2013.
  13. ^ Clement, Olivia. "New John Kander Musical Kid Victory Opens Tonight at the Signature". Playbill. Retrieved February 28, 2015. 
  14. ^ Clement, Olivia. "John Kander’s 'Kid Victory' Musical Opens Off-Broadway" Playbill, February 22, 2017.
  15. ^ a b Clement, Olivia. "World Premiere of 'Beast in the Jungle' Opens Off-Broadway" Playbill, May 23, 2018
  16. ^ Teeman, Tim (2012-10-16). "John Kander: Life is still a cabaret". The Times of London. Retrieved 2015-12-02. 
  17. ^ "Broadway Composer John Kander Reflects On A Career Of 'Hidden Treasures'". Fresh Air. 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2015-12-02. 
  18. ^ Newmark, Judith (2012-06-24). "John Kander brings his memories to Muny's 'Chicago'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2015-12-02. 
  19. ^ Baryshnikov on Broadway, retrieved January 10, 2018
  20. ^ O'Connor, John J. "'Liza In London' Presented On Hbo" The New York Times, May 29, 1986
  21. ^ "Notes for John Kander". Retrieved 2014-07-04. [permanent dead link]
  22. ^ "List of Kennedy Center Honorees". Archived from the original on 2013-11-15. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  23. ^ "Tony Winner John Kander Will Receive Signature's Stephen Sondheim Award | Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved 2018-04-07. 

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