The composer and lyricist Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born in 1930 to a wealthy New York dress manufacturer. When his parents divorced, his mother moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and young Stephen found himself in the right place at the right time. His mother’s neighbour was Oscar Hammerstein II, who was at the time working on the musical Oklahoma!. It didn’t take long for the adolescent boy to discover his fascination with musical theatre, and he consequently began studying music at Williams College in Williamstown Massachusetts, and later composition with Milton Babbitt. Like Oscar Hammerstein he would write the occasional pop song (with Jule Styne for Tony Bennett) and dabble in film, but like Hammerstein, his true love remained the theatre.
His initial success came in 1957 as a lyricist to Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story, followed by Jule Styne on Gypsy in 1959. He wrote the music and lyrics for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Anyone Can Whistle (1964), Pacific Overtures (1976), and Merrily We Roll Along (1981). He collaborated on Richard Rogers’ Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965) and cemented his reputation as a genius lyricist and composer with Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeny Todd (1984), Into the Woods (1987), Assassins (1991) and Passion (1994). In 2003, his musical Bounce had its premiere in Chicago while the Off-Broadway version (2008) was named Road Show.
He was President of the Council of the Dramatist Guild from 1973 to 1981. In 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was appointed the first Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University in 1990.
Stephen Sondheim is one of the most successful artists of the musical and theatrical world, who gained nearly all prizes and awards. He is the only composer in the world to win seven Tony Awards and has been honoured with the special Tony Award for “Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre” in 2008 and won several Grammys and Olivier Awards. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985 for Sunday in the Park with George and also was honoured with the Academy Award for his Song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” from the movie Dick Tracy.
To mark his 80th birthday there were numerous celebrations around the world: he received the accolade of having a London Prom Concert dedicated to his work. New York’s Henry Miller’s Theatre was renamed The Stephen Sondheim Theatre and a new show Sondheim on Sondheim opened on Broadway. The Royal Academy of Music conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of the university of London and volume two of his collected and annotated lyrics, Look I Made a Hat, was published. In July 2013 the Stephen Sondheim Society launched The Stephen Sondheim Society Archive.