Jerome Kern was the man most responsible for giving American musical theatre it's own identity, the first to really break away from the European tradition in a process which culminated in the ground-breaking 1927 musical SHOW BOAT, which swept away the melodrama and brightly attired dancing troupes and replaced them with a new realism.
SHOW BOAT dealt for the first time with previously sidelined issues such as racial prejudice and unhappiness in marriage, and demonstrated Kern's adaptability as a songwriter, with his ability, as one reviewer put it, to "infuse his music with the flavour of the dramatic situation". Many of the songs from the musical remain standards, such as Make Believe, and Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, an exquisite little love song which is probably my personal Kern favourite. And who can forget Paul Robeson's powerful rendition of the classic number Ol' Man River in the 1936 film version.
Kern later turned his attention from Broadway to composing for films, but his heart really lay in the collaborative atmosphere of theatre, and it is here that his true contribution can best be measured.
As a song plugger on Tin Pan Alley Jerome is said to have had a profound influence on the young George Gershwin's early development, from which it is clear that he was one of the true pioneers of American popular music. But it is also probably fair to say that this is a clear case of the pupil exceeding the master.
In retrospect, however, I doubt if Jerome would regard that as too much of an insult !