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Composer-Lyricist Robert Wright Dies at 90

Robert Wright (seated) and
George Forrest in their youth
Robert Wright, the composer-lyricist whose personal and professional partnership with George "Chet" Forrest lasted for more than 70 years, died on Wednesday, July 27 of natural causes at his home in Miami. He was 90.

The Wright-Forrest collaboration was one of the most successful in show business history. The two met in the late 1920s in Florida, when they were both high school students; the first song they wrote together was the school song "Hail to Miami High." They went on to provide lyrics and music for 16 produced stage musicals, 18 revues, dozens of films, and many club acts.

While under contract to MGM in the late 1930s and early '40s, Wright and Forrest received Oscar nominations for their songs "Always and Always" from Mannequin (1938), "It's a Blue World" from Music in My Heart (1940), and "Pennies for Peppino" from Flying With Music (1942). One of their biggest hits was "The Donkey Serenade," written with Herbert Stothart.

Wright was born on September 25, 1914, in Daytona Beach, Florida. He studied piano as a child and won an amateur contest at age nine with his performance of Rachmaninoff's C-Sharp Minor Prelude. He worked in vaudeville, played piano in a silent movie theater, and led his own orchestra while still in high school. Wright met Forrest, who was a year younger, when the latter auditioned for the school's glee club. In 1934, the pair began a cross-country cabaret tour and ended up in Hollywood; they auditioned at MGM, were hired as songwriters, and remained with the studio for seven years.

Later, they became famous for adapting the work of classical composers for use in Broadway musicals. Wright and Forrest won Tony Awards for the score of Kismet (1953), based on themes by the 19th century Russian composer Alexander Borodin; the show yielded such hit songs as "Stranger in Paradise," "And This Is My Beloved," and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads." They wrote shows based on the music of Edvard Grieg (Song of Norway), Heitor Villa-Lobos (Magdalena), Victor Herbert (Gypsy Lady), and Sergei Rachmaninoff (Anya), as well as Timbuktu, a revised version of Kismet. Wright and Forrest produced an entirely original score for Kean (1961), starring Alfred Drake, who had also starred in Kismet. Their last Broadway success was Grand Hotel (1989), which also featured several songs by Maury Yeston.

In the 1990s, they returned to a project on which they had begun work three decades earlier: Betting on Bertie, a musical about the Bertie Wooster character from P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves" stories. The lifelong partnership ended when Forrest died on October 10, 1999 in Miami. In 1995, Wright and Forrest were honored with the ASCAP/Richard Rodgers Award for their contributions to American musical theater.
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