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The Story Behind Rodgers and Hammerstein's Beloved Song of Hope—"You'll Never Walk Alone"

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(Originally published in 2016). Even if you’re not familiar with the Broadway musical Carousel, you’re likely to have heard the uplifting message and melody of the song "You’ll Never Walk Alone." Its roots in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical extend far beyond the story of love and loss.

David Fox teaches in the Theater Arts program at the University of Pennsylvania, and specializes in American musical theater. He says the Broadway musical version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is sung by a female contralto, a matriarchal figure who appears in subsequent works. The song's message of hope and resilience is repeated in countless renditions and arrangements, across genres and by a wide range of pop, opera and jazz performers.

More from David Fox on Carousel's significance in musical theater, his opinion of its place among Rogers and Hammerstein's works, as well the longevity of Hammerstein's simple, direct language. Fox teaches in Penn's Theater Arts Program.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

Reneé Fleming:

Josh Groban:

Clips from the original Carousel film with Shirley Jones as Julie Jordan:

The Three Tenors:

Radio Script:

Some musical moments live on long after the lights go down on Broadway. Now, WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston looks at a song WRTI will broadcast in context this weekend. It’s one many have heard before.

MUSIC: “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Kiri Te Kanawa, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Meridee Duddleston:  It was April, 1945 – less than a month before Nazi Germany’s surrender,  in a country yearning for hope. In the dark days of World War II, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel premiered on Broadway and with it the song of survival:  “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

David Fox:  Something about the song and that moment intersected in an ideal way.  We can talk about it in context of Carousel but it is also a song that has taken on an afterlife as a kind of American anthem.

MD: David Fox of the University of Pennsylvania teaches students about American musical theater and he says Carousel, the second of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, was one of the key building blocks of American theater.  With characters living in hard times, it wasn’t a sentimental story.

DF: For my taste it is the deepest, most profound musical that they wrote.  It builds on something that they were doing in Oklahoma, which was, I think to focus on aspects of American culture and American values, with a kind of seriousness that was very uncommon in musical theater at that time. 

MD: Fox says something about the song grabbed the public early on.   Did lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, envision his song of hope and resilience would live on through such wide musical spectrum of performers including Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, The Three Tenors, Patti LaBelle? Perhaps.

DF: One of things it has going for it, is the lyrics are not utterly specific to that moment.  They speak to something larger.  It is a piece that can be popped out of the context of the show and continue to maintain its meaning and its integrity even outside of it.

MD: Stirring music and its message won’t be confined to one voice, one generation, or one story.