Stephen Sondheim (1930 - ), the American lyricist and composer, was born in New York City to Herbert, a dress manufacturer and Janet, a clothing designer. After his parents’ divorce in 1942, Sondheim moved to Pennsylvania with his mother and began studying the piano and organ. Already practicing songwriting as a student at the George School, Sondheim became friends with the son of Broadway lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein. As a teen, Sondheim worked as an assistant on several of Hammerstein’s collaborations with composer Richard Rodgers, gaining valuable encouragement, advice, and recoginition as a rising star of Broadway. After graduating a music major from Williams College in 1950, Sondheim studied further with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt and moved back to his birthplace, New York City. Stage director Arthur Laurents brought Sondheim into contact with composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins, who were looking for a lyricist for a contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In writing the song lyrics for West Side Story, Sondheim became part of one of Broadway’s most successful productions of all time.
Sondheim won several Tony Awards in the 1970s for his collaborations with producer/director Harold Prince, including the musicals Company (1970), a meditation on contemporary marriage and commitment; Follies (1971), an homage to the Ziegfeld Follies and early Broadway; A Little Night Music (1973), a period comedy-drama that included the hit song “Send in the Clowns”; and Sweeney Todd (1979), a gory melodrama set in Victorian London.
Sondheim continued to combine various musical genres with sharp lyrical writing and unexpected subject matter in the 1990s and, although some of his later work re-ceived less critical and popular acclaim, he has been showered with awards, including: the Pulitizer Prize, an Academy Award, multiple Grammy Awards, multiple Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, membership in the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.