John Kander

John Kander
Birth name John Harold Kander
Born (1927-03-18) March 18, 1927
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
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 award-winning films.

Life and career

John Kander was born 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[2] in John and his brother, Edward. Kander's 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.[2] 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."[2] 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. 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.[2] 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.[2]

Kander studied music at Oberlin College and Columbia University, where he was a protégé of Douglas Moore[3] and studied composition with Jack Beeson and Otto Luening.[1] He received his master's degree from Columbia University in 1953.[1] Following his studies, John Kander began conducting at summer theaters before serving as a rehearsal pianist[1] for the musical West Side Story by Robert Wise 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. After that experience, he wrote dance arrangements for Irma la Douce in 1960.

John 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 made Kander and Ebb a permanent team.[1] In 1965, Kander and Ebb landed 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 initial Broadway appearance. Kander and Ebb have since been associated with writing material for both Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, and have produced special material for their appearances live and on television.

The musicals Cabaret and Chicago have been made into films; the film version of Chicago won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Picture.

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.[4]

His first musical without Fred Ebb in many years, The Landing, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, premiered at the Vineyard Theatre, kicking off their 2013–2014 season[5]

Kander's newest musical, Kid Victory, also with Greg Pierce, had its world premiere February 28, 2015 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA.[6]

Personal life

In 2010, Kander married dancer and choreographer Albert Stephenson, his partner since 1977, in Toronto.[7][8] Kander's great-nephew, Jason Kander, is Missouri Secretary of State.[9]

John Kander work

Lyrics by Fred Ebb unless otherwise noted

Stage musicals

The duo 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.[10]

In 1998, Kander and Ebb received the Kennedy Center Honors award for Lifetime Achievement.[11]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 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. 1 2 3 4 5 Leve, James (2009). Kander and Ebb (Yale Broadway Masters Series). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0300114877.
  3. John Kander (May 1, 2010). "Passing Through Curtains". NewMusicBox (Interview). Interview with Frank J. Oteri on April 7, 2010.
  4. Cerasaro, Pat."InDepth InterView: John Kander", November 2, 2010
  5. "John Kander, Greg Pierce and Nicky Silver announced for 2013-14 Season". Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  6. Clement, Olivia (28 Feb 2015). "New John Kander Musical Kid Victory Opens Tonight at the Signature". Playbill. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  7. Teeman, Tim (2012-10-16). "John Kander: Life is still a cabaret". The Times of London. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  8. "Broadway Composer John Kander Reflects On A Career Of 'Hidden Treasures'". Fresh Air. 2015-11-25. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  9. Newmark, Judith (2012-06-24). "John Kander brings his memories to Muny's 'Chicago'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
  10. "Notes for John Kander". Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  11. "List of Kennedy Center Honorees". Retrieved 2014-07-04.

External links

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