Born in New York City on June 18, 1902, Rodgers studied at Columbia University where he met the lyricist, Lorenz Hart. In the 1920s and 1930s, Rodgers & Hart produced numerous successful musical comedies, including: The Garrick Gaieties (1925-26), Dearest Enemy (1925), A Connecticut Yankee (1927), On Your Toes (1936), Babes in Arms (1937), I'd Rather Be Right (1937), I Married an Angel (1938), The Boys From Syracuse (1938), Too Many Girls (1939), Higher and Higher (1940), and Pal Joey (1940). Their partnership came to an end with the death of Lorenz Hart in 1943.
Rodgers, who had anticipated the end of the partnership, then began working with Oscar Hammerstein II, already a successful lyricist who had worked with Jerome Kern and others. Their first musical, Oklahoma (1943), was ground-breaking, and marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in Broadway musical history. This was followed by Carousel (1945), Allegro (1947), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song (1958) and The Sound of Music (1959). The Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards and 2 Emmy Awards.
After Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers continued to write music for Broadway. His solo career includes the music for No Strings (1962), Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965), Two By Two (1970), Rex (1976) and I Remember Mama (1979). For the film version of The Sound of Music, he solo-wrote two songs that had not appeared in the stage show.
Richard Rodgers died at his home in New York City on December 30, 1979 at the age of 77. In 1990 he was honored posthumously when the 46th Street Theatre was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Rodgers was an abrasive personality, not universally popular. Stephen Sondheim, who had worked separately with both Rodgers and Hammerstein, described Hammerstein as "a man of limited ability and infinite soul" and Rodgers as "a man of infinite ability and limited soul".