Styne was born in London as Julius Kerwin Stein to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, the Russian Empire who ran a small grocery. At the age of eight he moved with his family to Chicago, where at an early age he began taking piano lessons. He proved to be a prodigy and performed with the Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit Symphonies before he was ten years old.
Styne attended Chicago Musical College, but before then he had already attracted attention of another teenager, Mike Todd, later a successful film producer, who commissioned him to write a song for a musical act that he was creating. It was the first of over 1,500 published songs Styne composed in his career. His first hit, "Sunday", was written in 1926. In 1929, Styne was playing with the Ben Pollack band.
Styne was a vocal coach for 20th Century Fox, until Darryl F. Zanuck fired him because vocal coaching was "a luxury, and we're cutting out those luxuries" and told him he should write songs, because "that's forever". Styne established his own dance band, which brought him to the notice of Hollywood, where he was championed by Frank Sinatra and where he began a collaboration with lyricist Sammy Cahn, with whom he wrote many songs for the movies, including "It's Been a Long, Long Time" (#1 for 3 weeks for Harry James and His Orchestra in 1945), "Five Minutes More," and the Oscar-winning title song of Three Coins in the Fountain. He collaborated on the score for the 1955 musical film My Sister Eileen with Leo Robin. Ten of his songs were nominated for the Oscar, many written with Cahn, including "I've Heard That Song Before" (#1 for 13 weeks for Harry James and His Orchestra in 1943), "I'll Walk Alone", "It's Magic" (a #2 hit for Doris Day in 1948) and "I Fall in Love Too Easily".
In 1947, Styne wrote his first score for a Broadway musical, High Button Shoes with Cahn, and over the next several decades wrote the scores for many Broadway shows, most notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Peter Pan (additional music), Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, Do Re Mi, Funny Girl, Sugar (with a story based on the movie Some Like It Hot, but all new music), and the Tony-winning Hallelujah, Baby!.
Styne wrote original music for the short-lived, themed amusement park Freedomland U.S.A. which opened on June 19, 1960.
His collaborators included Sammy Cahn, Leo Robin, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Stephen Sondheim, and Bob Merrill.
He was the subject of This Is Your Life for British television in 1978 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews in New York’s Time Square.
Styne died of heart failure in New York City at the age of 88. His archive - including original hand-written compositions, letters, and production materials - is housed at the Harry Ransom Center.
Styne was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981, and he was a recipient of a Drama Desk Special Award and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1990.
A selection of the many songs that Styne wrote:"The Christmas Waltz"
"Conchita Marquita Lolita Pepita Rosita Juanita Lopez"
"Don't Rain on My Parade" (from Funny Girl)
"Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
"Everything's Coming Up Roses" (from Gypsy)
"Every Street's a Boulevard in Old New York" (from Hazel Flagg)
"Fiddle Dee Dee"
"Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry"
"How Do You Speak To An Angel"
"I Don't Want to Walk Without You"
"I Fall In Love Too Easily" (from Anchors Aweigh)
"I Still Get Jealous"
"I'll Walk Alone"
"It's Been a Long, Long Time"
"It's Magic" (from Romance on the High Seas)
"It's You or No One"
"I've Heard That Song Before"
"Just In Time" (from Bells Are Ringing)
"Let Me Entertain You" (from Gypsy)
"Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"
"Long Before I Knew You"
"Make Someone Happy" (from Do Re Mi)
"Money Burns a Hole in My Pocket" (from Living It Up)
"Papa, Wont You Dance with Me?"
"The Party's Over" (from Bells Are Ringing)
"People" (from Funny Girl)
"Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)" sung by Frank Sinatra
"Small World", from Gypsy, which became a moderate hit when sung by Johnny Mathis in 1959
"Sunday" with Ned Miller
"The Things We Did Last Summer"
"Time After Time" (from It Happened in Brooklyn)
"Three Coins in the Fountain", Oscar-winning song from film
"Together (Wherever We Go)" (from Gypsy)
"Pico and Sepulveda"
Ice Capades of 1943 (1942) – Styne contributed one song
Glad to See You! (1944) – closed in Philadelphia PA during tryout
High Button Shoes (1947)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949)
Michael Todd's Peep Show (1950) – Styne contributed 2 numbers
Two on the Aisle (1951)
Hazel Flagg (1953)
Peter Pan (1954) (additional music)
My Sister Eileen (1955)
Bells Are Ringing (1956)
Say, Darling (1958)
A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green (1958)
Do Re Mi (1960)
Subways Are For Sleeping (1961)
Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
Arturo Ui (1963) – Styne contributed incidental music to this Bertolt Brecht play
Funny Girl (1964)
Wonderworld (1964) – lyrics by Styne's son, Stanley
Fade Out – Fade In (1964)
Something More! (1964) -directed by Styne
The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood (1965)
Hallelujah, Baby! (1967)
Darling of the Day (1968)
Look to the Lilies (1970)
The Night the Animals Talked (1970)
Prettybelle (1971) – closed in Boston
Sugar (1972) (revised as Some Like It Hot: The Musical for a 2002-03 national USA tour starring Tony Curtis as Osgood Fielding, Jr.)
Lorelei (1974) – essentially a sequel/revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Hellzapoppin'! (1976) – closed in Baltimore during pre-Broadway tryout
Side by Side by Sondheim (1976)
Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978)
One Night Stand (1980) – closed during preview period
Pieces of Eight (1985)
The Red Shoes (1993)