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The story of the Hollywood musical begins in 1927 with the release of "THE JAZZ SINGER", starring Al Jolson, which is ironic because it was an almost entirely silent movie, and was in fact seen in complete silence in most film theatres across America due to a total lack of sound facilities! It was nevertheless a sensation, and triggered an unseemly scramble, as film studios attempted to purchase the rights to existing Broadway songs and sign up the established Broadway songwriters. Amongst those songs was the perennial "Blue Skies" written by a man who to this day remains Hollywood's most succesful ever songwriter, the great Irving Berlin.
Early movie musicals were seen as commercial non-starters by studio execs. and were hacked to bits, causing some writers, including Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart to become disillusioned and return to Broadway. Nevertheless, many critics regard the latter's score for 1932's "LOVE ME TONIGHT", which included songs like "Isn't It Romantic" and "Lover", to be the genre's first masterpiece.
The following year saw the release of "FORTY-SECOND STREET", propelled to success by the lavish choreography of Busby Berkeley and four songs from Harry Warren and Al Dubin. In just over three years Hollywood had come a long way from the pioneering but amateurish "THE BROADWAY MELODY", the first movie musical to have songs written specifically for it.
Hollywood gave a new lease of life to many tired Broadway musicals, often in a much truncated form, but it was provided with fresh impetus by the Fred Astaire / Gingers Rogers dance phenomenon, who took the film musical to new heights, culminating in their unforgettable routine to Berlin's "Cheek To Cheek" in the 1935 movie "TOP HAT". The 1930's also saw the first full-length animated film musical, the 1937 production "SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS", beginning the Disney Studio's 40-year dominance of the genre.
Hollywood musicals continued to provide the setting for many memorable original songs right through to the late 1950's, the most famous probably being Harold Arlen's 1939 classic "Over The Rainbow" from "THE WIZARD OF OZ". However, a mere 30 years after it's tentative beginnings, Elvis's rendition of Lieber & Stoller's "Jailhouse Rock" effectively brought to a close what many regard as the Golden Age of the American musical.
Throughout the 1960's and 1970's the Hollywood musical retreated in the face of the armies of rock & roll, scoring isolated triumphs such as Henry Mancini's "Moon River" from the 1961 classic "BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S" and the Sherman brothers' scores for "MARY POPPINS", "THE JUNGLE BOOK" etc.
A revival of the animated musical in the 1980's and 1990's proved to be fairly short-lived, and currently original songwriting for the film musical is an extreme rarity. Some say the musical as a genre is dead, others that it is dormant or in transition. Only time, and the benefit of hindsight, will tell.

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Prominent songwriters

Irving Berlin
Jerome Kern
Rodgers & Hart
Harry Warren
Nacio Herb Brown
George & Ira Gershwin
Harold Arlen
Rodgers & Hammerstein
Johnny Mercer
Jimmy McHugh
Herman Hupfeld
Leiber & Stoller
Henry Mancini
Richard & Robert Sherman
Alan Menken

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books : Hollywood Musicals

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audio : Hollywood Musicals

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