During a songwriting career that spanned more than fifty years, Richard Rodgers established himself as one of the most memorable composers of the American theater. Rodgers began writing songs in high school and continued as a student at Columbia University. In 1918, while working on a production there, he met fellow Columbia student and lyricist Lorenz Hart. The two began a fruitful collaborative relationship that lasted almost twenty-five years. Their first song, "Any Old Place with You," was published in 1919, but their big break came in 1925, when they wrote the music for the revue The Garrick Gaieties. Other hits followed, notably On Your Toes (1936), Babes in Arms (1937), and Pal Joey (1940). Rodgers and Hart's shows were noted for the quality of their songs, the innovative use of incidental music and ballet sequences, the variety of subject matter, and the increasing integration of music and plot.
The trend toward the "musical play" advanced one step further when Rodgers began to work with Oscar Hammerstein II in 1942, the year before Hart's death. Their first show, Oklahoma! (1943), merged plot, music, and dance as never before, in a style that was unmistakably and uniquely American. Rodgers's technique continued to mature and diversify as he strove to match his music to the demands of story, setting, and character. The result was landmark shows such as Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959). These works enjoyed a level of artistic, critical, and financial success rarely matched before or since on the American stage.