Why Rodgers & Hammerstein Are This Year's Unlikely Grammy Power Duo

Oklahoma!’s Damon Daunno and Grande D
Daunno: Walter McBride/Getty Images. Grande: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images.

Oklahoma!’s Damon Daunno and Grande

Amid the younger acts celebrated at the Grammy Awards will be a much older duo: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The iconic musical-theater composers are involved with four different nominees: Ariana Grande, whose “7 Rings” interpolates “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music; the new Broadway cast recording of Oklahoma!, with a significantly reimagined score, is a best musical theater album contender; and John Legend and opera diva Joyce DiDonato both cover “My Favorite Things” on nominated albums.

Nearly 80 years after their breakout success as a team — and long after their deaths — Rodgers & Hammerstein are a hotter pop culture attraction than ever before, whether in Broadway, pop music (though not nominated, Chance the Rapper’s “Zanies and Fools” interpolated the R&H tune "Impossible" from Cinderella) or TV (the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen revolved around Oklahoma! songs and references). “These songs and shows are timeless,” says Bill Gaden, president of Concord Music Publishing North America. (Concord owns the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which includes the R&H catalog.) “It’s important that people understand we’re open, and we’re creative — we want people to look at our material in new and different ways.”

Whether or not Grande and Oklahoma! win on Grammy night, the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization is already cleaning up. (Based on category criteria, neither the composers nor the organization  are actually individually eligible for Grammy wins). It owns 90% of the publishing on “7 Rings” and 100% of Oklahoma! (both the show and music). When an artist like Grande uses an R&H tune, “we then negotiate ownership of the new song,” says Gaden. “We participate as writers, as does Ariana.” That Grande ceded the majority of the song’s publishing revenue to R&H “shows she understands how much the original work informs ‘7 Rings,’ ” says Gaden. “And from a catalog point of view, it demonstrates the value of amazing evergreen copyrights.”

Because Rodgers & Hammerstein weren’t just great composers — they were savvy businessmen, too. “They were smart enough to never let any [of their own] rights go anywhere else,” says Gaden. That makes the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization fairly unique: “We do all rights in-house — so we can market the brand and think about the bigger picture.”

And the organization is indeed actively marketing its composers’ music like a publisher for an active songwriter would: Its social media team regularly searches for famous artists who might be interested in R&H songs. Even Frito-Lay recently arranged a synch license for a commercial featuring a new version of “My Favorite Things” sung by Anna Kendrick (albeit one with lyrics like “Bags of Tostitos with salsa and queso/Lay’s and Doritos if I have my say-so”). “The stars are aligning for us,” says Gaden. “It’s up to us to continue that momentum.” And “nothing,” he adds, “does that like a Grammy.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.

2020 Grammy Awards


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