George Gershwin

One of the pre-eminent stars of the classic American Songbook era, George Gershwin's music became an indelible part of Broadway and films even though he died of a brain tumour in 1937 aged 38. With his lyricist brother Ira Gershwin, he captured the energy of the Roaring Twenties with a mix of orchestral structure, Yiddish music hall, brash big bands and African-American rhythms. Growing up in New York's Yiddish Theater District, Gershwin had several music teachers including composers Charles Hambitzer and Rubin Goldmark and theorist Henry Cowell. He left school at 15 and found a job plugging songs on New York's Tin Pan Alley. By the time he was 17, he had published his own songs and had his first big success with 'Swanee' (lyrics by Irving Caesar), which became a hit after Al Jolson chose it for one of his shows. After a time in which he provided songs for music rolls, he ventured into vaudeville until he met songwriter William Daly. Together, they wrote 'Piccadilly to Broadway' (1920) and 'For Goodness' Sake' (1922) for the Broadway stage. Gershwin also wrote songs with lyricist Buddy DeSylva, including 'Blue Monday', and then settled on his brother Ira as his main collaborator. In 1924, George and Ira created the stage musical 'Lady Be Good' which featured enduring standards such as the title song and 'Fascinating Rhythm'. Other Broadway shows followed including 'Primrose' (1924), 'Tell Me More' (1925), 'Tip-Toes' (1925), Funny Face (1927) and 'Strike Up the Band (1927). The songwriter spent much of the 1920s living in Paris and it inspired him to compose the jazz-oriented classical piece 'An American in Paris', upon which director Vincent Minnelli and dancer Gene Kelly based their 1951 feature film of the same name. The picture won six Academy Awards including that for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, which went to musical directors Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin even though Gershwin's music is heard throughout. Gershwin's most ambitious venture after 'Rhapsody in Blue' was the 1935 opera 'Porgy and Bess' with libretto by DuBose Hayward and lyrics by Ira Gershwin. The opera is a folk tale about a disabled street beggar in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, and features classically trained African-American performers. The show, with the hit song 'Summertime', toured internationally and has been revived and recorded many times including a production at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London, in 2014. After suffering from blackouts, Gershwin was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died at the young age of 38.

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Stations Featuring George Gershwin

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