Gustave Kerker

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Gustave Adolph Kerker (February 28, 1857 – June 29, 1923) was a German-born composer and conductor who spent most of his life in the US. He became a musical director for Broadway theatre productions and wrote the music for a series of operettas and musicals produced on Broadway and in the West End. His most famous musical was The Belle of New York.

Life and career[edit]

Kerker was born in Herford, Germany and began to study the cello at the age of seven.[1] His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1867, settling in Louisville, Kentucky. Kerker played in pit orchestras at local theatres and then began to conduct. His early operetta, Cadets, toured the South in 1879. Kerker then moved to New York City, where he was engaged as the principal conductor at the Casino Theatre. There, he began to add his own songs into the scores of foreign operettas, notably Charles Lecocq's The Pearl of Pekin, since these works had no effective copyright in the U.S.

Vocal score

Kerker's first complete operetta in New York was Castles in the Air in 1890. He wrote over twenty shows, the most successful of which were the London musical burlesque Little Christopher Columbus (1893), and the international musical hit The Belle of New York (1897). Other notable musicals included An American Beauty (1896), The Girl from Up There (1901), Winsome Winnie (1903), The Tourists (1906), and Fascinating Flora (1907) to a book by R. H. Burnside and Joseph W. Herbert. He was one of the nine founding members of ASCAP in 1914.[2]

Kerker was married twice: first to Rose Keene whose stage name was Rose Leighton (1884) and second to Mattie B. Rivenberg (married June 5, 1908), a show girl in the musical Nearly a Hero who was 30 years his junior.[1][3]

Kerker died following an "attack of apoplexy" at his home on 565 West 169th Street in New York City at the age of 66.[1]

Theater credits[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Gustave Kerker, Composer, Dead," New York Times (June 30, 1923), p. 11
  2. ^ Billboard, February 16, 1974, p. 10
  3. ^ There are no children listed on the 1920 census.


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