Jerome David Kern's musical talents were apparent early. At the age of 10, in 1895, he saw his first musical show, only to return home and play from memory all of the tunes he had heard. His father was a merchant in Newark. He sent Jerome to purchase two pianos for the store and a piano salesman talked Jerome into ordering 200 pianos. At that point, the elder Kern realized that perhaps his son's strength was music rather than business. In 1903, Jerome sailed to Europe to study music. A year later he returned to the United States and took a job as a piano-playing "song plugger" on Tin Pan Alley.
His first musical score, written during this period, was for Mr. Wix of Wickham. Kern adapted its original music for the stage and added four songs of his own. This effort captured the attention of Max Dreyfuss, who headed a major publishing firm. Following a series of lesser jobs--from selling sheet music to writing musical scores for stage productions--his Show Boat became a hit in 1927. Other hits included The Cat and The Fiddle, Music In the Air, and Roberta. Two of his works won Academy Awards: The Way You Look Tonight and The Last Time I Saw Paris. He died in 1945, after collapsing with a cerebral hemorrhage at a New York City street corner.