Monday, September 13, 2004

SHOWOBIT: Fred Ebb, the lyricist who was "sweetly vague" about his true age, has died. Ebb, believed to be 76, suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in New York.

Over a four-decade collaboration with John Kander, he provided the music for eleven Broadway musicals, including Cabert, Chicago and Kiss of the Spiderwoman. His most successful work was probably New York, New York - originally part of the score for a 1977 Scorsese movie, it was destined to become one of Frank Sinatra's standards. A winner of four Tony awards and an Olivier (for Chicago), and nominated for five Golden Globes, Ebb's prominence in musical theatre would have seemed unlikely to anyone who knew his family - apparently no music was ever listened to in the home he grew up in, but Ebb developed his taste outside.

After graduating with a degree in English Literature, Ebb drifted from job to job (including a spell bronzing baby shoes) before hooking up with Phil Springer, who introduced him to prosody (the AABA song paterns rather than verse-chorus-verse). In 1953, the Ebb/Springer partnership were hired to write for Judy Garland, and they went on to produce a stream of songs for nightclubs and revues. In 1964, however, Ebb was introduced to John Kander, and it was at this point (after a couple of false starts, notably the unstaged Golden Gate musical) that he really hit his stride. Besides the musicals, the partnership also produced a number of songs for Liza Minelli's TV series.

In 1997, Ebb and Kander received the Kennedy Center honor. Ebb's last major work was 1997's Steel Pier.

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