Gershwin, George and Ira
Gershwin, George and Ira
George and Ira Gershwin
Composer and lyricist
Brothers George and Ira Gershwin enjoyed a working relationship that Larry Kart of the Chicago Tribune likened to “mental telepathy.” “When George had many tunes on tap for me” Kart quoted Ira as having said, “and I couldn’t recall exactly the start of a particular one I wanted to discuss, I would visualize the vocal line and my forefinger would draw an approximation of its curves in the air. And more often than not he would know the tune I meant.” Together they created some of the most popular songs of the 1920s and ’30s, songs that would hold a central place in pop music’s library throughout the century.
They were unlikely collaborators—George had seemingly unstoppable kinetic energy, whereas Ira, according to composer Arthur Schwartz, as quoted in Fascinating Rhythm, was “a hard man to get out of an easy chair.” George had the chutzpah to take on the world of popular and concert music with little concern about his lack of formal training. Ira, on the other hand, took on George’s often very complicated and inventive music with, in the words of Encyclopedia of the Musical
George Gershwin (born Jacob Gershvin, September 26, 1898, in Brooklyn, NY; died of a brain tumor, July 11, 1937, in Beverly Hills, CA; Education: Studied music with Charles Hambitzer, Edward Kileny, Rubin Goldmark, Wallingford Riegger, Henry Cowell, and Joseph Schillinger), composer, pianist; Ira Gershwin (born Israel Gershvin, December 6, 1896, in New York City; died August 15, 1983, in Beverly Hills, CA; married Leonore Strunsky, September 14, 1926; Education: Attended City College of New York), lyricist; sons of Morris (a businessman) and Rose Bruskin Gershwin.
George was music plugger on Tin Pan Alley, 1914-1917; published first song, “When You Want ’Em, You Can’t Get ’Em, When You Got ’Em, You Don’t Want ’Em,” 1916; pianist at Broadway’s Century Theater, 1917-1918; composed songs for Harms Publishing, 1918-1919; composed first Broadway score, La La Lucilie, 1919; first successful concert piece, The Rhapsody in Blue, 1924. Ira and George first collaborated on “The Real American Folk Song (Is a Rag),” 1918; Ira scored first show with Vincent Youmans, Two Little Girls in Blue, 1921; Gershwins collaborated on first show, Dangerous Maid, 1921, and had first hit with Lady, Be Good!, 1924. After George’s death, Ira wrote lyrics for Broadway shows, including Lady in the Dark, 1941, and for films, including A Star Is Born, 1954; Ira was author of Lyrics on Several Occasions (annotated lyrics), 1959.
Selected awards: Ira, Pulitzer Prize (with George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind), 1932, for Of Thee I Sing; George, honorary membership, St. Cecelia Academy in Rome, 1937; together, Academy Award nomination, 1937, for “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”; Ira (with others) Academy Award nominations, 1944, for “Long Ago and Far Away,” and 1954, for “The Man That Got Away;” numerous theaters, musical competitions, and library collections bear the Gershwin name.
Theater author Stanley Green, “agile wit, originality of phrase, and rhyming ingenuity.”
Like many of their Tin Pan Alley colleagues, the Gershwins were the children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. The original family name was Gershovitz, which George and Ira’s parents anglicized to Gershvin and which the family later changed to Gershwin. Ira was born first, in New York City on December 6, 1896. Their father, Morris, was a businessman who changed ventures and addresses at a dizzying pace. Ira once reckoned that the family lived in 28 apartments in fewer than 20 years. Morris owned, at various times, restaurants, bakeries, baths, a cigar store, and a pool parlor. When George made his entrance on September 26, 1898, the family had crossed the river into Brooklyn.
In spite of the brothers’ remarkable ability to harmonize as adults, as youths, George and Ira led very different lives. Ira was quiet and studious, and he read voraciously. George, conversely, was a rowdy. He hung out on the street, playing sports and getting into trouble. In his books, Ira discovered poetry and light verse; in the streets, George found music.
Standing on a sidewalk in Harlem in 1904, George heard Anton Rubinstein’s Melody in Fon a player piano and loved the sound of it. Six years later, when the Gershwins bought a piano—intending it for Ira—George sat down and immediately began playing. He had been listening to music on the street for years and had played around on the piano at a friend’s house. When it became clear that George would be the musician, lessons were arranged with neighborhood teachers.
In 1912 George began to study with Charles Hambitzer, who recognized the youngster’s gift immediately. Although George was interested in modern music—particularly jazz—his teacher made sure he learned the classics as well. He took George to classical concerts and introduced him to the music of Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Claude Debussy. George also managed to find the jazz he yearned to play—back on the street. As Kart explained in the Chicago Tribune, “New York was a hot bed for such swinging black virtuosos as James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake and Willie [The Lion] Smith, and Gershwin learned the Harlem stride-style of piano playing from the men who invented it—being tutored, in particular, by the brilliant Lucky Roberts.” George was also influenced by the music he heard downtown, on the Broadway stage. He and Ira went to the theater as often as once a week, and George was inspired by the great songwriters of the period, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.
Never one for academics, George dropped out of high school in 1914 to become a song plugger for Jerome H. Remick & Co., a Tin Pan Alley music publisher. Following in the footsteps of Berlin, George promoted the company’s music by playing and singing songs for performers. The job was a wonderful introduction to the music business; hearing the works of the best songwriters of the day, George quickly learned what it took to become a great popular songsmith and how to avoid becoming a hack. In his book American Popular Song Alec Wilder observed that even with his first song, 1916’s “When You Want ’Em, You Can’t Get ’Em, When You Got ’Em, You Don’t Want ’Em,” George showed a “need to break away from the hack writer pattern.”
In 1917 George left Remick and was soon working on Broadway as rehearsal pianist for Miss 1917, a show by Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert. Afterwards, he continued working at the Century Theater, where the show had opened. By 1918 he had published a smattering of songs, and that year Max Dreyfus, head of Harms Publishing, hired George to compose for his company at $35 a week. Within a year three Broadway shows included his songs, and he had worked as an onstage accompanist for Broadway star Nora Bayes. In May of 1919 La La Lucille, for which George had written his first full score, opened on Broadway. Though not a huge success, it ran for 104 performances. Then George turned 21.
Though Ira’s aspirations eventually turned toward Broadway as well, his route there was quite different from the one George had taken. Encouraged by the books he read, Ira began writing when he was very young. As early as grammar school he put together humorous newsletters. In high school he found a kindred spirit in future lyricist Yip Harburg, who joined Ira in his publishing ventures. They discovered a shared love for vers de société —sophisticated, witty, ironic, satiric, and playful poems and lyrics—and the operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. According to Fascinating Rhythm author Deena Rosenberg, Ira and Harburg were especially impressed “that brilliant light verse could work so well in combination with clever, tuneful music.”
Ira attended City College of New York, where he continued writing light verse. Eventually, he began to submit one-liners and poems to magazines and newspapers. At that time, newspaper humorists would include in their columns witticisms sent in by readers of the paper. Ira’s first such publication was in a 1914 edition of C. L. Edison’s New York Mail column: “Tramp jokes are bum comedy.” After two years of college, Ira dropped out and pursued a variety of jobs. Working at his father’s Turkish baths, Ira met British playwright Paul M. Potter, who, according to Rosenberg, advised the budding writer “to learn especially ‘your American slang.’” Ira continued to pick up slang in a variety of endeavors, including a stint as the manager of his cousin’s touring carnival show. As Rosenberg noted, “He considered himself a ’floating soul,’ unsure where he would land.”
As he floated, he observed life—the people and city around him—and took notes. Eventually he landed with George in the theater.
Sparked by George’s interest, Ira began attending the theater and even reviewed a few shows for a trade paper. He also began to write song lyrics on occasion, some to George’s music. Their first full collaboration, in 1918, resulted in “The Real American Folk Song (Is a Rag),” which addressed popular American music’s “melting pot.” Nora Bayes performed the number in her show. Hearing their work onstage had a profound effect on the Gershwins; with this performance, Ira became, in the words of Rosenberg, “Ira Gershwin, lyricist,” and George became determined to compose a show.
But while George moved on to write La La Lucille, Ira found other collaborators. George suggested he write a song with Vincent Youmans, a budding composer whose later hits included “Tea for Two.” Ira did, and George played the new songs for Lucille’s producer, Alex Aarons, who signed Ira and Youmans to score his next show, Two Little Girls in Blue. Ira did not want to capitalize on George’s growing fame and so began his professional career with the pseudonym Arthur Francis—combining the names of the brothers’ younger siblings.
During the next few years George and Ira continued to write—but usually not together. While their occasional collaborations showed promise, there were no sparks. In 1921 they collaborated on their first show, Dangerous Maid, but it closed on the road. In the meantime, they developed and honed their individual styles. George’s career continued on the same trajectory, and he showed no signs of slowing down. His composition “Swanee” was recorded by superstar Al Jolson in 1920; it was George’s first popular success. Later, under contract to producer George White, George composed scores for a number of stage shows in New York and London. His scores in the early 1920s included those for A Dangerous Maid, Our Nell, Sweet Little Devil, The Rainbow, Primrose, and five installments of the annual revue George White’s Scandals. As early as 1923, critics began to take notice. In an essay in Dial, as reprinted in Fascinating Rhythm, critic Gilbert Seldes hailed George as a great talent and a possible successor to the Broadway master, Irving Berlin.
Although George was firmly entrenched in the world of popular music, the classical influence of Hambitzer, his former teacher, was still marked. Furthermore, in 1917, as his professional output increased, he had begun a study of harmony, counterpoint, orchestration, and music form with Edward Kilenyi. He dabbled in classical composition and wrote his first, the Lullaby for string quartet, as a harmony exercise for his instructor. He also composed a short opera for George White’s Scandals of 1922 called Blue Monday, but it was never included in the show.
Because critics and audiences were unaware of George’s classical penchant and credentials, they were dazzled when he introduced the Rhapsody in Blue. In 1924 band leader Paul Whiteman organized a concert he billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music” and invited George to write a jazz concerto for it. In less than three months he produced the Rhapsody in Blue. Whiteman invited classical musicians and music critics to the concert on February 12, 1924, and George’s composition was a featured performance. Though the Rhapsody in Blue has been criticized by a number of musicians over the years, its debut represented the first time that jazz had found its way into the world of classical music. George wowed the audience and suddenly became very famous.
Critical response was mixed, but the Rhapsody garnered a great deal of attention. Many classical critics were mystified by the blending of styles. Some observers, however, were very excited—according to Rosenberg, critic Deems Taylor called Gershwin “the link between the jazz camp and the intellectuals.” With decades of hindsight, the Chicago Tribune’s Kart disagreed: “In retrospect ’Rhapsody’ did nothing of the sort—for even though it is a delightfully tuneful piece of light music, it is not really jazzlike.” In Commentary, William G. Hyland opined, “Gershwin claimed that with the Rhapsody he wanted to strike a blow against the stereotype of jazz. But was the Rhapsody jazz? In the narrowest sense of the term it was not: there were no improvisations, there were no driving rhythms, and it was not even very ’blue.’ It was not the kind of jazz that Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton were playing. But the spirit of the piece is jazz and owes a lot to the jazz greats of the time.” Regardless of critical opinion, in its first decade the Rhapsody earned more than a quarter of a million dollars in performances and recordings.
Composing the Rhapsody in Blue was instrumental not only in establishing George’s reputation in concert music, but in marking the moment that George and Ira were ripe for collaboration. In Fascinating Rhythm Rosenberg identified this composition as the catalyst that began the partnership. “Once George had written this consummate fusion of blue-note-dominated melody lines, provocative and novel harmonies, and varied syncopated rhythmic figures, Ira began to find the kind of words that would bring George’s distinctive music idiom to life on stage.”
The variety of styles and influences that the Gershwins brought to their work created a very distinctive sound that delighted and occasionally mystified critics. They marvelled at George’s creativity and daring and often accepted his imperfections as part of the package. “His work is such a personal expression,” Charles Schwartz ventured in the Dictionary of Contemporary Music, “that even the numerous technical deficiencies in his serious compositions have come to be accepted as part of the Gershwin sound.” Rather than staying with one type of music, George blended the strains that wafted through New York, particularly European classical, African-American blues and jazz, and the music of Eastern European Jews. It was, in Commentary contributor Hyland’s estimation, “the sound of urban America and especially of Manhattan and Broadway.”
George was able to be daring and creative in his compositions because he was, in many critics’ opinions, a remarkable musician with an instinctive understanding of music. He was a brilliant pianist and excelled in rhythm and harmony. Hyland was especially enthusiastic about this point: “Gershwin’s abilities at the piano were truly extraordinary and were the secret of his success as a composer.... [He] reveled in rhythm, in part because he played the piano so well.” He was also, in Hyland’s view, “a superb manipulator of harmony,” who understood how to use the newest sounds and “deliberately sought out the most advanced progression of chords.”
Also characteristic of George’s music was his use of the blues and blue notes. Though not a blues musician, Hyland judged that George “had an unusual feel for the blues.” In the New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Richard Crawford agreed: “Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Gershwin’s melodies is their reliance on blue notes. Sometimes they function as blatant dissonances.... At other times they soften the melodic contour with a sinuous grace.” Even when critical, scholars of George’s music tend to qualify their dissatisfaction with admiration. Typical is composer Arthur Schwartz’s assessment of George’s longer work, as quoted by Rosenberg: “[The] symphonic pieces contain many structural deficiencies that resulted from Gershwin’s rather limited experience in expanding musical materials. However, the tunes in these works are usually so outstanding that they often compensate for other inadequacies.”
Most of George’s critics agree that his musical style was, in Hyland’s words, “helped immeasurably by his brother’s witty and sophisticated lyrics.” Rosenberg noted that the lyrics of one of their first songs, “Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha,” written in 1919, “give us some early hints of Ira’s emerging style, with its whimsy, depth, and unexpected juxtapositions of the sublime and the mundane.” Almost exclusively, Ira wrote lyrics after George had composed the music. In doing so, he matched the sophistication, urbanity, and slang-derived quality of George’s music and avoided poetic or syrupy lyrics. Crawford quoted Ira on this point: “Since most of [my] lyrics... were arrived at by fitting words mosaically to music already composed, any resemblance to actual poetry, living or dead, is highly improbable.” In Poets of Tin Pan Alley author Philip Furia’s opinion, Ira’s “most brilliant effects came from finding the ready-made slang phrase to fit every rhythmic turn of his brother’s music.”
Taking playwright Paul M. Potter’s advice, Ira relied heavily on colloquial speech for his lyrics. He used contractions, slurred words, and dropped off letters, as in “’S Wonderful.” He also liked to play with clichés and catch phrases—“How Long Has This Been Going On,” “Of Thee I Sing,”—twisting their meanings. Furia noted that Ira’s favorite subject for lyrics was the excitement of falling in love, but “what really interested him was less the romantic message than the medium of language itself—the vocabulary, idioms, and phrasing of American speech.”
Ira found the perfect words for George’s music with producer Alex Aarons’s next show. Aarons asked the Gershwins to write the score for a show highlighting a new sister-brother dance team—Fred and Adele Astaire. The result was Lady, Be Good!, which opened in December of 1924. The beauty of the brothers’ collaboration was evident in the first song they wrote, “The Man I Love,” which Aarons used to get financing for the production. The song was eventually dropped but became a huge hit on its own. The numbers that remained in the show—notably “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh! Lady, Be Good!”—were no less skillful. “Fascinating Rhythm” included such a complex rhythm that Arthur Schwartz, according to Rosenberg, called Ira’s lyrical achievement “a truly phenomenal feat... when one considers that... [he] was required to be brilliant within the most confining rhythms and accents.” The show was a hit with critics and a popular success. It made stars of the Astaires, and the Gershwins became the talk of the musical world.
Through the rest of the 1920s George and Ira wrote hit musicals and made stars of their performers. Singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” in 1926’s Oh, Kay!, Gertrude Lawrence became a luminary. Also that year, Funny Face brought the Astaires back to rave reviews and produced such hits as “’S Wonderful” and “How Long Has This Been Going On.” Girl Crazy, which opened in 1930, made celebrities of two of its performers: Ethel Merman, with “I Got Rhythm,” and Ginger Rogers, with “Embraceable You” and “But Not for Me.”
While George composed musicals with his brother, he did not neglect his other pursuits. Buoyed by the success of the Rhapsody, George began to devote more attention to concert music. He continued to study with noted instructors, including Rubin Goldmark, Wallingford Riegger, Henry Cowell, and Joseph Schillinger. In 1925 he composed the Concerto in Ffor piano and orchestra for the New York Symphony Orchestra and introduced the Preludes for piano. In 1928, while vacationing in Europe, he composed the tone poem An American in Paris. During this sojourn he also met the classical composers Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Alban Berg. He continued to perform his music in concert halls and tackled conducting as well. George was even commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to write a “Jewish opera”—The Dybbuk —but this never came about.
Despite George’s popularity and his brilliant work with Ira, like all Broadway composers, the Gershwins had their share of failures. Treasure Girl in 1928 and Show Girl in 1929 were both flops, and East Is West never made it to the stage. Some of the latter show’s songs, however—“I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Liza”—became hits when they were showcased in later productions. And one of these failures eventually became a hit. Critics liked Strike Up the Band, which was first staged in 1927, but many found the anti-war political satire of George S. Kaufman’s script too biting for most audiences. The show closed before reaching Broadway. A few years later, however, Kaufman had colleague Morrie Ryskind tone down the satire; the show’s second try, in 1930, was a sucess. George, Ira, Kaufman, and Ryskind followed this with two more presentations, creating a sort of musical political satire trilogy.
Strike Up the Band and the two shows that followed, Of Thee I Sing and Let ‘Em Eat Cake, were very unusual for Broadway musicals of the time. As it was, politically and socially satiric musicals were rare. Furthermore, as Rosenberg noted, “Of Thee I Sing is often cited, along with Kern and [Oscar] Hammerstein’s Show Boat, as a precursor to Oklahoma! —one of the rare pre-1943 shows that closely integrated its score into its action. It comments on it, mocks it, deflates it; often, it is the action.” Ethan Mordden of the New York Times agreed, insisting that in Of Thee I Sing “the Gershwins constructed a score that sounds like musical comedy but behaves like operetta, all in an air of such insouciant burlesque that the music enriches the satire.”
Of Thee I Sing, which opened in 1931, topped Strike Up the Band in popularity and acclaim. It did extremely well at the box office even in the midst of the Depression, and it was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama. Its sequel, Let Em Eat Cake, took on much weightier subjects and was in part a response to the rising power of Adolf Hitler and fears of communism and fascism. Unfortunately, this show was not a hit and ran for only 46 performances.
After their string of satires, the Gershwins embarked on a new musical path. Taking on opera, George composed what New Grove Dictionary of American Music contributor Crawford called his “magnum opus,” Porgy and Bess. The opera was based on DuBose Heyward’s Porgy, a novel about the black community of “Catfish Row” in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1933 the New York Theater Guild contracted Heyward and the Gershwins to produce a musical; together they created a work that was billed as “an American folk opera.”
When it opened in 1935, Porgy and Bess received a lackluster response. It ran for only 120 performances and was deemed a financial failure. Critics offered a variety of complaints. “Opera critics have objected to arias that sound too much like Broadway songs and to the score’s lack of organic, symphonic integration,” Crawford explained. “Black critics have found Gershwin’s evocations of their music inauthentic.” Rosenberg also noted that critics found the switching of styles within the opera troublesome. Yet, in time, Porgy and Bess became considered one of the great compositions, and later stagings were very successful. For George and Ira it was an ideal synthesis. It was, as Rosenberg wrote, “the Gershwins’ most thorough and effective mixture of popular and classical elements. Here is... a work that consists of the many kinds of music and the diverse rhythms that make up New York, America, and a large part of the human race.”
After Porgy and Bess, George took a break and went to Mexico. Ira teamed up with Vernon Duke to write songs for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and had a hit with “I Can’t Get Started.” In June of 1936, George and Ira signed a contract with RKO film studios and “went Hollywood.” They had written there before, when they scored Delicious in 1931, but this time around was far more fruitful. They wrote scores for Shall We Dance, A Damsel in Distress, and Goldwyn Follies, creating a string of hits: “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”—nominated for an Academy Award in 1937—“They All Laughed,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “A Foggy Day,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “Things Are Looking Up,” and “Love Is Here to Stay.” In Fascinating Rhythm author Rosenberg’s opinion, the reason for success was very clear: “At this point, George, thirty-eight, and Ira, forty, were so deeply in tune with each other that in less than a year they produced one standard after another—a concentrated stream of songs written from a more mature sensibility and reflecting the sound and themes of the late thirties. In the twenties, the elements of the Gershwins’ love ballads cohere to produce a sense of loneliness and longing; in the thirties, they cohere to produce a sense of tenuous celebration and affirmation of life amid a shifting and unstable world.”
The world was indeed unstable. In 1937, while working on The Goldwyn Follies, George began exhibiting strange behavior and symptoms. He stumbled in performance, often lost his coordination, and suffered severe headaches. Many of his friends—and even doctors—believed his condition was emotional, resulting perhaps from the stress of working in Hollywood. Tragically, they were wrong; on July 9th George fell into a coma and two days later died from a too-long-undiagnosed brain tumor that had grown to the size of a grapefruit.
Ira was devastated; he wrote little for three years. He returned to work in 1941 to collaborate with composer Kurt Weill on Lady in the Dark. The show was a success and it led to more collaborations with Weill. However, the partnership was cut short when Weill died at age 50. Ira soldiered on, working with a variety of great composers, including Aaron Copland, Harry Warrens, Burton Lane, and Jerome Kern. Ira and Kern’s song “Long Ago and Far Away” garnered an Academy Award nomination. His last Broadway show was Park Avenue, which he wrote with Arthur Schwartz and which reunited him with George S. Kaufman. Despite this return to Broadway, Ira preferred California to New York and moved there permanently. Ira’s last collaborator was Harold Arlen, whose musical style, according to Rosenberg, was very similar to George’s. Together they scored A Star Is Born in 1952-53, a comeback film for actress Judy Garland. Ira wrote his last songs for the film, including “The Man That Got Away,” which, as Rosenberg reported, a Time reviewer called “one unforgettable lump in the throat,” and for which Ira received another Academy Award nomination.
In spite of the sustained success he enjoyed after George’s death, Ira’s writing had changed. In Poets of Tin Pan Alley author Furia’s appraisal, “Although he continued to write lyrics for over twenty years, Ira seldom recaptured the slangy sophistication of the popular songs he had written with his brother.” Working with other composers after George’s death, Furia found that “his lyrical style shifted away from vernacular ease toward the poetic heights.”
Ira spent the last three decades of his life, in Rosenberg’s words, as “the guardian, perpetuator, and promoter of all matters Gershwin.” He set lyrics to 60 or so of George’s tunes that did not have lyrics, many of which were later used in films. He was involved in revivals of their shows, arranged for performances of George’s unperformed compositions, and consulted on various films that used their work. He also organized collections of Gershwin documents and recordings for the Library of Congress and collected his own annotated lyrics in Lyrics on Several Occasions, published in 1959.
Critics continue to speculate about the Gershwins’ work had George not died so young. In Commentary contributor Hyland’s evaluation, “After Porgy and Bess a new [George] Gershwin emerged with more spartan and straightforward lines, less ragged jazz; a greater sense of sadness crept into his final songs. Clearly Gershwin was in a state of transition when he died. He was weary of Hollywood and exasperated with Sam Goldwyn’s pressure to write hits ’like Irving Berlin.’ Where this transition would have led to no one can say, but it would undoubtedly have been exciting.”
Speculation aside, the Gershwins’ work has continued to thrill audiences for decades. In the 1980s and ’90s three of their scores reappeared on Broadway, in Crazy for You, My One and Only, and Oh, Kay! New recordings were also released, including a series of scores on Elektra Nonesuch that drew on “long lost” and unpublished material found in 1982 in a Warner Bros, warehouse. And the Gershwins persist in fascinating biographers, who have produced a number of studies of George and Ira and their work as new information and interpretations have come to light. Joan Peyser’s 1993 book The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin included a number of controversial assertions about George, including the claim that he fathered an illegitimate son and possibly a daughter as well.
“For all their resonance as masters of 20’s musical comedy,” New York Times contributor Mordden observed in 1992, “the Gershwins have proved timeless.” Rosenberg, for her part, offered an explanation for this timelessness: “Well over half a century after Gershwin songs broke over New York, they still retain their power to energize, delight, and illuminate, to disturb and surprise. Their capacity for self-renewal seems inexhaustible; that is why the songs are still among the most widely played and recorded among jazz artists, as well as theater, pop, and classical performers... No matter how witty, sophisticated, and warm the songs, a human vulnerability is always there. The greatest Gershwin songs give us a three-dimensional slice of life, with its ever-shifting moments of doubt, hope, disappointment, and fulfillment—and provide a rich antidote, however brief.”
A Dangerous Maid, 1921.
Lady, Be Good! (includes “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Oh, Lady Be Good!”), 1924.
Tell Me More, 1925.
Oh, Kay! (includes “Someone to Watch Over Me”), 1926.
Strike Up the Band (includes “I’ve Got a Crush on You,”), 1927, 1930.
Funny Face (includes “’S Wonderful”), 1927.
Rosalie (includes “How Long Has This Been Going On?”), 1928.
Treasure Girl, 1928.
Show Girl (includes “Liza”), 1929.
Girl Crazy (includes “But Not for Me,” “Embraceable You,” and “I Got Rhythm”), 1930.
Of Thee I Sing (includes “Of Thee I Sing”), 1931.
Pardon My English, 1933.
Let’Em Eat Cake, 1933.
Porgy and Bess (with DuBose Heyward), 1935.
Shall We Dance (includes “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “They All Laughed,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”), 1937.
A Damsel in Distress (includes “A Foggy Day,” “Things are Looking Up,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It”), 1937.
The Goldwyn Follies (includes “Love Is Here to Stay”), 1938.
The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, 1946.
Kiss Me, Stupid, 1964.
Orchestral works by George Gershwin
Rhapsody in Blue, 1924.
Concerto in F, 1925.
An American in Paris, 1928.
Second Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, 1931.
Cuban Overture, 1932.
Catfish Row, 1935-36.
Film scores by Ira Gershwin
The North Star, 1943.
Cover Girl (includes “Long Ago and Far Away”), 1944.
The Barkleys of Broadway, 1949.
Give the Girl a Break, 1953.
The Country Girl, 1954.
A Star Is Born (includes “The Man That Got Away”), 1954.
George Gershwin’s stage collaborations with other lyricists include La La Lucille, 1919; George White’s Scandals of 1920-1924; Our Nell, 1922; The Rainbow, 1923; Sweet Little Devil, 1924; Primrose, 1924; and Song of the Flame, 1925. Ira Gershwin’s stage collaborations with other composers include Two Little Girls in Blue, 1921; Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 (includes “I Can’t Get Started”); Lady in the Dark, 1941; The Firebrand of Florence, 1945; and Park Avenue, 1946.
Porgy and Bess, RCA Victor, 1963.
London Symphony Orchestra, Previn Plays Gershwin, EMI Angel, 1971.
Fitzgerald, The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, Polygram, 1978.
Marni Nixon Sings Gershwin, Reference Recordings, 1986.
Kiri Te Kanawa, Kiri Sings Gershwin, EMI Angel, 1987.
George Gershwin Piano Music, Elektra Nonesuch, 1987.
Michael Feinstein, Pure Gershwin, Parnassus Records, 1985, Elektra, 1987.
A Star Is Born, CBS Records, 1988.
Gershwin Songs and Duets, Koch International, 1990.
Bobby Short is K-RA-ZY for Gershwin, Atlantic, 1990.
George and Ira Gershwin: Girl Crazy, Elektra Nonesuch, 1990.
An American in Paris, Original MGM Soundtrack, CBS Records, 1990.
George and Ira Gershwin: Strike Up the Band, Elektra Nonesuch, 1991.
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, The Gershwins in Hollywood, PolyGram Classics and Jazz, 1991.
Crazy for You, Broadway Angel, 1992.
Barbara Hendricks, Katia, and Marielle Labeque, Gershwin, Phillips, 1992.
The Authentic George Gershwin, Vol. I, 1918-1925, ASV Digital, 1992.
Wayne Marshall and Andrew Litton, Rhapsody in Blue, Virgin Classics, 1992.
The Atlantic Brass Quintet, By George: Gershwin’s Greatest Hits, MusicMasters, 1993.
Crazy for Gershwin, IMP Classics/Allegro, 1993.
George Gershwin, Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls, Realized by Artis Wodehouse, Elektra Nonesuch, 1993.
Great American Songwriters Vol. I—George and Ira Gershwin, Rhino, 1993.
Dictionary of Contemporary Music, edited by John Vinton, E. P. Dutton, 1974.
Furia, Philip, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley, Oxford University Press, 1990.
Green, Stanley, Encyclopedia of the Musical Theater, DaCapo, 1976.
Jablonski, Edward, Gershwin: A Biography, Doubleday, 1987.
The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Volume 2, edited by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie, Macmillan, 1986.
Peyser, Joan, The Memory of All That, Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Rosenberg, Deena, Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin, Dutton, 1991.
Wilder, Alec, American Popular Song: The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, Oxford University Press, 1972.
Chicago Tribune, February 15, 1987; April 1, 1990.
Commentary, October 1990.
Down Beat, January 1994.
Entertainment Weekly, April 2, 1993.
New York Times, March 7, 1992; March 17, 1992.
People, June 7, 1993.
Time, January 31, 1994.
—Megan Rubiner Zinn