George Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin’s compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known.
George Gershwin composed music for both Broadway and the classical concert hall, as well as popular songs that brought his work to an even wider public. His compositions have been used in numerous films and on television, and many became jazz standards recorded in numerous variations. Countless singers and musicians have recorded Gershwin songs.
Gershwin was named Jacob Gershowitz at birth in Brooklyn on September 26, 1898. His parents were Russian Jews. His father, Morris (Moishe) Gershowitz, changed his family name to ‘Gershvin’ some time after immigrating to the United States from St. Petersburg, Russia in the early 1890s. Gershwin’s mother Rosa Bruskin had already immigrated from Russia. She met Gershowitz in New York and they married on July 21, 1895. (George changed the spelling of the family name to ‘Gershwin’ after he became a professional musician; other members of his family followed suit.)
Ella Fitzgerald singing the Gershwin tune, “Someone To Watch Over Me”
George Gershwin was the second of four children. He first displayed interest in music at the age of ten, when he was intrigued by what he heard at his friend Maxie Rosenzweig’s violin recital. The sound and the way his friend played captured him. His parents had bought a piano for lessons for his older brother Ira, but to his parents’ surprise and Ira’s relief, it was George who played it. Although his younger sister Frances Gershwin was the first in the family to make money from her musical talents, she married young and devoted herself to being a mother and housewife. She gave up her performing career, but settled into painting for another creative outlet — painting was also a hobby of George Gershwin.
Gershwin tried various piano teachers for two years, and then was introduced to Charles Hambitzer by Jack Miller, the pianist in the Beethoven Symphony Orchestra. Until Hambitzer’s death in 1918, he acted as Gershwin’s mentor. Hambitzer taught Gershwin conventional piano technique, introduced him to music of the European classical tradition, and encouraged him to attend orchestra concerts. At home, following such concerts, young Gershwin would attempt to reproduce at the piano the music that he had heard. He later studied with classical composer Rubin Goldmark and avant-garde composer-theorist Henry Cowell.
Sarah Vaughan and her trio performing “They Can’t Take That Away”
At the age of fifteen, George left school and found his first job as a performer as a “song plugger” for Jerome H. Remick and Company, a publishing firm on New York City’s Tin Pan Alley, where he earned $15 a week. His first published song was “When You Want ‘Em You Can’t Get ‘Em, When You’ve Got ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em.” It was published in 1916 when Gershwin was only 17 years old and earned him a sum total of $5, although he was promised much more.
Fred Astaire singing, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” from the musical, “Shall We Dance”
You say eether and I say eyether,
You say neether and I say nyther;
Eether, eyether, neether, nyther,
Let’s call the whole thing off!
You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto;
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let’s call the whole thing off!
But oh! If we call the whole thing off,
Then we must part.
And oh! If we ever part,
Then that might break my heart!
So, if you like pajamas and I like pajahmas,
I’ll wear pajamas and give up pajahmas.
For we know we need each other so we,
Better call the calling off off.
Let’s call the whole thing off!
Things have come to a pretty pass,
Our romance is growing flat,
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that.
Goodness knows what the end will be;
Oh, I don’t know where I’m at…
It looks as if we two will never be one,
Something must be done.
So, if you like oysters and I like ersters
I’ll take oysters and give up ersters.
For we know we need each other so we,
Better call the calling off off!
Let’s call the whole thing off!
His 1917 novelty rag “Rialto Ripples” was a commercial success, and in 1919 he scored his first big national hit with his song “Swanee” with words by Irving Caesar. In 1916, Gershwin started working for Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls in New York, recording and arranging. He produced dozens, if not hundreds, of rolls under his own and assumed names. (Pseudonyms attributed to Gershwin include Fred Murtha and Bert Wynn.) He also recorded rolls of his own compositions for the Duo-Art and Welte-Mignon reproducing pianos. As well as recording piano rolls, Gershwin made a brief foray into vaudeville, accompanying both Nora Bayes and Louise Dresser on the piano.
In the early 1920s Gershwin frequently worked with the lyricist Buddy DeSylva. Together they created the experimental one-act jazz opera Blue Monday set in Harlem, which is widely regarded as a forerunner to the groundbreaking Porgy and Bess.
Nina Simone in 1960 performing “I Loves You Porgy” from the musical, Porgy and Bess.
This was followed by Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Strike Up the Band (1927 and 1930), Show Girl (1929), Girl Crazy (1930), which introduced the standard “I Got Rhythm“; and Of Thee I Sing (1931), the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Eleanor Powell tapping away to George and Ira Gershwin’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm in the 1941 MGM Musical ‘Lady be Good’
n 1924, Gershwin composed his first major classical work, Rhapsody in Blue for orchestra and piano. It was orchestrated by Ferde Grofé and premiered by Paul Whiteman‘s concert band in New York. It proved to be his most popular work.
Here’s Geroge Gershwin playing his own, “Rhapsody In Blue”
Gershwin stayed in Paris for a short period, where he applied to study composition with Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger, along with several other prospective tutors such as Maurice Ravel, rejected him, however, afraid that rigorous classical study would ruin his jazz-influenced style. While there, Gershwin wrote An American in Paris. This work received mixed reviews upon its first performance at Carnegie Hall on December 13, 1928, but it quickly became part of the standard repertoire in Europe and the United States. Growing tired of the Parisian musical scene, Gershwin returned to the United States.
Leontyne Price singing “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess” 1981
In 1929, Gershwin was contracted by Fox Film Corporation to compose the score for the movie Delicious. Two movements were used in the final film, the five-minute “Dream Sequence” and the six-minute “Manhattan Rhapsody”. Gershwin became infuriated when the rest of the score was rejected by Fox Film Corporation, and it would be seven years before he worked in Hollywood again.
Fred Astaire singing “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” from Shall We Dance with Ginger Rogers.
His most ambitious composition was Porgy and Bess (1935). Gershwin called it a “folk opera,” and it is now widely regarded as the most important American opera of the twentieth century. Based on the novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward, the action takes place in the fictional all-black neighborhood of Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. With the exception of several minor speaking roles, all of the characters are black. The music combines elements of popular music of the day, with a strong influence of Black music, with techniques typical of opera, such as recitative, through-composition and an extensive system of leitmotifs. Porgy and Bess contains some of Gershwin’s most sophisticated music, including a fugue, a passacaglia, the use of atonality, polytonality and polyrhythm, and a tone row. Even the “set numbers” (of which “Summertime“, “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin'” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” are well known examples) are some of the most refined and ingenious of Gershwin’s output. (For the performances, Gershwin collaborated with Eva Jessye, whom he picked as the musical director. One of the outstanding musical alumnae of Western University in Kansas, she had created her own choir in New York and performed widely with them.)
After Porgy and Bess, Gershwin eventually was commissioned by RKO Pictures in 1936 to compose songs and the underscore for Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gershwin’s extended score, which would marry ballet with jazz in a new way, runs over an hour in length. It took Gershwin several months to write and orchestrate it.
Lee Wiley with Eddie Condon’s Orch. – The Man I Love (G.Gershwin), Decca 1944
Early in 1937, Gershwin began to complain of blinding headaches and a recurring impression that he was smelling burned rubber. Doctors discovered he had developed a type of cystic malignant brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme. Although some tried to trace his disease to a blow on the head from a golf ball, the cause of this type of cancer is still unknown. This type of cancer occurs most often in males, accounts for 52% of all brain cancers, and is nearly always fatal.
The diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme has been questioned. The surgeon’s description of Gershwin’s tumor as a right temporal lobe cyst with a mural nodule is much more consistent with a pilocytic astrocytoma, a very low-grade of brain tumor. Further, Gershwin’s initial olfactory hallucination (the unpleasant smell of burning rubber) was in 1934. It is highly unlikely that a glioblastoma multiforme would cause symptoms of that duration prior to causing death. Pilocytic astrocytomas may cause symptoms for twenty or more years prior to diagnosis. Thus, it is possible that Gershwin’s prominent chronic gastrointestinal symptoms (which he called his “composer’s stomach”) were a manifestation of temporal lobe epilepsy caused by his tumor. If this is correct, then Gershwin was not “a notorious hypochondriac,” as suggested by his biographer Edward Jablonski.
This was the final piece of music written by George Gershwin prior to his death, and the words to this song had not been written as yet. It’s hard to imagine how his brother Ira must have felt penning the lyrics to what he knew was George’s last melody. Here it is performed by Sinatra.
In January 1937, Gershwin performed in a special concert of his music with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the direction of French maestro Pierre Monteux. It was in Hollywood, while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that he collapsed. He died on July 11, 1937 at the age of 38 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital following surgery for the tumor. John O’Hara remarked: “George Gershwin died on July 11, 1937, but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.”  A memorial concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl on September 8, 1937 at which Otto Klemperer conducted his own orchestration of the second of Gershwin’s Three Piano Preludes.
Mel Torme singing “A foggy day in London town” on the Nat King Cole show
Gershwin received his sole Oscar nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 1937 Oscars, for “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” written with his brother Ira for the 1937 film Shall We Dance. The nomination was posthumous; Gershwin died two months after the film’s release.
Gershwin had a 10-year affair with composer Kay Swift and frequently consulted her about his music. Oh, Kay was named for her. After Gershwin died, Swift arranged some of his music, transcribed some of his recordings, and collaborated with his brother Ira on several projects.
Gershwin died intestate. All his property passed to his mother. He is buried in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. The Gershwin estate continues to collect significant royalties from licensing the copyrights on Gershwin’s work. The estate supported the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act because its 1923 cutoff date was shortly before Gershwin had begun to create his most popular works. The copyrights on those works expired at the end of 2007 in the European Union.
Ira Gershwin (December 6, 1896 – August 17, 1983) was an American lyricist who collaborated with his younger brother, composer George Gershwin, to create some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century.
The success the brothers had with their collaborative works has often overshadowed the creative role that Ira played. However, his mastery of songwriting continued after the early death of George. He wrote additional hit songs with composers Jerome Kern (“Long Ago (and Far Away)“), Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen.
Singing one of my favorite love songs “Long Ago (And Far Away)” from the movie Cover Girl.
His critically acclaimed book Lyrics on Several Occasions of 1959, an amalgam of autobiography and annotated anthology, is an important source for studying the art of the lyricist in the golden age of American popular song.
Gershwin was born Israel Gershovitz in New York City to Morris (Moishe) and Rose Gershovitz who changed the family name to Gershwin well before their children rose to fame. Shy in his youth, he spent much of his time at home reading, but from grammar school through college, he played a prominent part in several school newspapers and magazines. He graduated from Townsend Harris High School in 1914, where he met Yip Harburg. He attended the City College of New York but dropped out.
While his younger brother began composing and “plugging” in Tin Pan Alley from the age of eighteen, Ira worked as a cashier in his father’s Turkish baths. It was not until 1921 that Ira became involved in the music business. Alex Aarons signed Ira to write the music for his next show, Two Little Girls in Blue (written under the pseudonym “Arthur Francis”), ultimately produced by Abraham Erlanger, with co-composers Vincent Youmans and Paul Lannin. Gershwin’s lyrics were well received and allowed him to successfully enter the theatre world with just one show.
It was not until 1924 that Ira and George Gershwin teamed up to write the music for their first Broadway hit Lady, Be Good!. Once the brothers joined together, their combined talents became one of the most influential forces in the history of American Musical Theatre. “When the Gershwins teamed up to write songs for Lady, Be Good, the American musical found its native idiom”. Together, they wrote the music for more than twelve shows and four films. Some of their more famous works include “The Man I Love“, “Fascinating Rhythm“, “Someone to Watch Over Me“, “I Got Rhythm“, “Summertime“, and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me“. Their partnership continued until George’s sudden death from a brain tumor in 1937. Following his brother’s death, Ira waited nearly three years before writing again.
Billie Holiday With Lester Young & Teddy Wilson performing Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke’s, “can’t Get Started With You”
After this interlude, he teamed up with such accomplished composers as Jerome Kern (Cover Girl); Kurt Weill (Where Do We Go from Here? and Lady in the Dark); and Harold Arlen (Life Begins at 8:40; A Star Is Born).  Over the next fourteen years, Gershwin continued to write the lyrics for many film scores and a few Broadway shows. But the failure of Park Avenue in 1946, a “smart” show about divorce, co-written with composer Arthur Schwartz, was his farewell to Broadway. As he wrote at the time, “Am reading a couple of stories for possible musicalization (if there is such a word) but I hope I don’t like them as I think I deserve a long rest.” In 1947, eleven songs he and George had written but never used were incorporated into the Betty Grable film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim.
Three of Gershwin’s songs (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (1937), “Long Ago and Far Away” (1944) and “The Man That Got Away” (1954)) were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, though none won.
Gems from “Of Thee I Sing”
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Directed by Nathaniel Shilkret with the Victor Salon Group
Vocals by Jane Froman and Sonny Schuyler (aka Sunny Skylar)
Originally broadcast July 10, 1938
This is from a memorial broadcast honoring George Gershwin on the eve of the first anniversary of the composer’s premature death on July 11, 1937. The broadcast starred Jane Froman, Felix Knight, Sonny Schuyler and the Victor Salon Group, conducted by Nathaniel Shilkret. The concert was later released on 78 rpm records.
“Of Thee I Sing” first opened on Broadway on December 26, 1931 and ran for 441 performances. The original cast included Victor Moore, William Gaxton, George Murphy, Lois Moran, June O’Dea, Dudley Clements, Grace Brinkley and Florenz Ames.
The George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Musical Achievement Award was established in 1988 by UCLA to honor the brothers for their contribution to music and for their gift to UCLA of the fight song “Strike Up the Band for UCLA”. Past winners have included Angela Lansbury (1988), Ray Charles (1991), Mel Torme (1994), Bernadette Peters (1995), Frank Sinatra (2000), Stevie Wonder (2002), k.d. lang (2003), James Taylor (2004), Babyface (2005), Burt Bacharach (2006), Quincy Jones (2007), Lionel Richie (2008) and Julie Andrews (2009).
The work of Ira and George Gershwin runs deep in the American consciousness. The opening clarinet glissando from George’s Rhapsody in Blue, the taxi horn theme from his An American in Paris and the brothers’ songs – “I Got Rhythm”, “Embraceable You”, “The Man I Love”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “Fascinating Rhythm”, and many others – are instantly recognizable.
Ira Gershwin was a joyous listener to the sounds of the modern world. “He had a sharp eye and ear for the minutae of living.” He noted in a diary: “Heard in a day: An elevator’s purr, telephone’s ring, telephone’s buzz, a baby’s moans, a shout of delight, a screech from a ‘flat wheel’, hoarse honks, a hoarse voice, a tinkle, a match scratch on sandpaper, a deep resounding boom of dynamiting in the impending subway, iron hooks on the gutter.”
In 1987, Ira’s widow, Leonore Gershwin, established the Ira Gershwin Literacy Center at University Settlement, a century-old institution at 185 Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side, New York City. The Center is designed to give English-language programs to primarily Hispanic and Chinese Americans. Ira and his younger brother George spent many after-school hours at the Settlement. 
The George and Ira Gershwin Collection is at the Library of Congress Music Division. The Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart Gershwin Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds a number of Ira’s manuscripts and other material.
In 2007, the Library of Congress named its Prize for Popular Song after him and his brother George. Recognizing the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture, the prize will be given annually to a composer or performer whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins. On March 1, 2007, the Library of Congress announced that Paul Simon, one of America’s most respected songwriters and musicians, was the first recipient of the annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
Source: Wikipedia, IMDB.com, NNDB.com, YouTube, gershwin.com
Quick Bio Facts:
George Gershwin AKA Jacob Gershovitz
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY 
Location of death: Hollywood, CA 
Cause of death: Cancer – Brain
Remains: Buried, Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Rhapsody In Blue
 242 Snedicker Ave., Brooklyn, NY.
Father: Morris Gershovitz
Mother: Rose Bruskin
Brother: Ira Gershwin (lyricist, b. 6-Dec-1896, d. 17-Aug-1983)
High School: High School of Commerce, New York, NY
Songwriters Hall of Fame 1970
Hollywood Walk of Fame 7083 Hollywood Blvd. (with Ira Gershwin)
Asteroid Namesake 8249 Gershwin
Brain Surgery Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (Jul-1937)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
New York: A Documentary Film (14-Nov-1999) Himself
Ira Gershwin – AKA Israel Gershvin
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: They Can’t Take That Away from Me
Father: Morris Gershovitz
Mother: Rose Bruskin
Brother: George Gershwin (composer, b. 26-Sep-1898, d. 11-Jul-1937)
Wife: Leonore Strunsky (m. 14-Sep-1926, until his death, d. 1991)
High School: Townsend Harris High School, Queens, NY
University: City College of New York (two years)
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