George Gershwin

 

Born in 1898 in New York City, George Gershwin was the son of a non-musical immigrant family. At a young age, he was fascinated by a friend's player piano and taught himself popular tunes of the day. At the age of twelve, his family bought a piano intended for his older brother Ira, and George amazed everyone with what he had taught himself. Lessons began and the boy thought of a career as a concert pianist, supplementing his music lessons by attending as many concerts as he could.

However, George Gershwin's real interest was in jazz and show tunes, so at age fifteen, he left school to work on Tin Pan Alley as a song plugger and writer. In 1919, he wrote his first large-scale musical, "La La Lucille" and achieved fame and fortune with the song "Swanee". In 1924, he composed "Rhapsody in Blue" which won tremendous international acclaim. This was music that perfectly represented the spirit of the care-free "Roaring Twenties". The "Concerto in F" and "American in Paris" followed.

Throughout his career, Gershwin maintained a remarkable partnership with Ira, one of popular music's most talented lyricists. They combined talents for many Broadway shows such as "Lady Be Good", "Funny Face" and "Girl Crazy" and Hollywood films such as "Shall We Dance" and "Damsel in Distress". In 1934, they began a two-year project, creating the folk opera, "Porgy and Bess", which today is performed in opera houses worldwide.

George Gershwin's life was cut short by a brain tumor in 1937 at the age of thirty-eight. He elevated the art and elegance of Tin Pan Alley by combining it with the power and spice of jazz. For many years, the highbrow contingent looked down with condescension upon his music, unwilling to accept that anything written in a pop or jazz style could be taken seriously. But his music has stood the test of time and approval is now universal.