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Robert Russell Bennett

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Biography

Robert Russell Bennett (June 15, 1894 – August 18, 1981) was an American composer and arranger, best known for his orchestration of many well-known Broadway musicals by other composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers.

Robert Russell Bennett was born in 1894 to a very musical family in Kansas City, Missouri. His father, George Bennett, played violin in the Kansas City Symphony and trumpet at the Grand Opera House, while his mother, May, worked as a pianist and teacher. She taught Bennett piano, while his father taught him violin and trumpet.

The Bennett family moved to a farm in Freeman, Missouri, when Bennett was four, to speed his recovery from polio. By that time, he had demonstrated his aptitude for music and his remarkable ear by picking out the finale of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 14, no. 2, on the white keys of the piano. By his early adolescence, his father often called upon him to play any given instrument as a utility member or substitute player within Bennett’s Band in Freeman. In his autobiography, Bennett recalled finding a ragtime tune on the piano at age ten and being informed by his mother that such music was trash—this lesson taught him to be, as he called it, a “life-long musical snob.” His mother also taught his academic lessons until he was twelve due to health concerns; his health remained an obstacle when Bennett later decided to join the Army.

After completing his secondary education, Bennett moved to Kansas City to be a freelance musician, performing throughout the city as well as with the symphony.

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