Gershwin, George

Gershwin, George gŭrsh´wĭn [key], 1898–1937, American composer, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., as Jacob Gershwin. Gershwin wrote some of the most original and popular musical works produced in the United States. Although he studied harmony with Rubin Goldmark (see under Goldmark, Karl), he received most of his musical training in Tin Pan Alley, playing the piano for a publisher of popular music. He first achieved wide success with his song Swanee. In addition to a great number of songs, he wrote the scores for several musicals, including George White's Scandals (1920), Lady, Be Good! (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Girl Crazy (1930), and George S. Kaufman's Of Thee I Sing (1931; Pulitzer Prize).

In many compositions Gershwin combined traditional musical forms with jazz and folk themes and rhythms. They include Rhapsody in Blue (1924), a symphonic jazz composition for jazz band, piano, and orchestra; the Piano Concerto in F (1925); An American in Paris (1928), a tone poem incorporating elements of jazz as well as realistic sound effects; Porgy and Bess (1935; from the book by Dubose Heyward), a folk opera about African-American life, which includes the famous song Summertime; and Three Preludes (1936), for the piano. Gershwin also composed music for Hollywood films.

His brother, Ira Gershwin, 1896–1983, b. Brooklyn, N.Y., wrote beautifully crafted lyrics for many Gershwin songs. The rhymed conversation that he wrote to his brother's music includes the words for But Not for Me, Fascinating Rhythm, I've Got a Crush on You, and 'S Wonderful. After George Gershwin's death, Ira collaborated with such composers as Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.


See biographies by I. Goldberg (new ed. 1958), D. Ewen (rev. ed. 1970), E. Jablonski (1987), W. G. Hyland (2003), and H. Pollack (2006); C. Schwartz, Gershwin: His Life and Music (1973); R. Kimball and A. Simon, The Gershwins (1973); I. Gershwin, Lyrics on Several Occasions (1959, repr. 1997); E. Jablonski and L. D. Steward, The Gershwin Years (rev. ed. 1973); R. Kimball, ed., The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin (1993); P. Furia, Ira Gershwin, The Art of the Lyricist (1995).

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