Spotlight On

George Gershwin

Originality is the only thing that counts. But the originator uses material and ideas that occur round him and pass through him. And out of his experience comes the original creation.

Commended as an eminent figure among the influential composers of the 20th century, George Gershwin's musical oeuvre and enduring legacy persist in kindling inspiration that resonates in contemporary music and beyond.


Life and Legacy of George Gershwin


In The Beginning

George was born on September 26, 1898, in the Snediker Avenue apartment. His birth certificate identifies him as Jacob Gershwine, with the surname pronounced 'Gersh-vin' in the Russian and Yiddish immigrant community. He was named after his grandfather, and, contrary to the American practice, had no middle name. He soon became known as George, and changed the spelling of his surname to 'Gershwin' around the time he became a professional musician.


On Broadway

In 1913, at the age of 15, Gershwin left school to work as a "song plugger" on New York City's Tin Pan Alley, earning $15 a week. He had his first published song, "When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em," in 1916 at the age of 17. Gershwin worked for Aeolian Company and Standard Music Rolls, recording and arranging music while also producing successful rolls under different names. In 1919, he achieved national fame with his song "Swanee," performed by Al Jolson. During the late 1910s, Gershwin formed a lasting friendship with music director William Daly, collaborating on Broadway musicals and seeking musical advice from him.


Living in Blue

In 1924, Gershwin composed his groundbreaking work, Rhapsody in Blue, blending jazz and classical elements. It premiered in New York and became his most popular and influential piece. He also collaborated with Buddy DeSylva on the jazz opera Blue Monday and later created successful stage musical comedies like Lady Be Good (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), and Strike Up the Band (1927 and 1930). Gershwin's brief stay in Paris inspired him to write An American in Paris, which initially received mixed reviews but soon became a standard repertoire in Europe and the US.


The Legacy

In 1929, the Gershwin brothers created the musical Show Girl, followed by Girl Crazy in the next year, featuring beloved songs like "Embraceable You" and "I Got Rhythm". Their 1931 production Of Thee I Sing made history as the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1934, while on a summer vacation in South Carolina, Gershwin was inspired to compose the music for his iconic opera Porgy and Bess. The opera received mixed evaluations, blurring the line between opera and Broadway musical, but it became a timeless American classic that transcended categorization. Gershwin passed July 11, 1937 leaving a musical legacy of over 1000 compositions.

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