George Gershwin

George Gershwin (gŭrsh´wĬn), 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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

George Gershwin: Selected full-text books and articles

George Gershwin: His Life and Work By Howard Pollack University of California Press, 2007
Show Tunes: The Songs, Shows, and Careers of Broadway's Major Composers By Steven Suskin Oxford University Press, 2000 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: "George Gershwin" begins on p. 57
Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from Show Boat to Sondheim By Geoffrey Block Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. Four "Porgy and Bess: Broadway Opera"
The Music Lover's Handbook By Elie Siegmeister William Morrow, 1943
Librarian's tip: "The Relation of Jazz to American Music" by George Gershwin begins on p. 728; "George Gershwin" begins on p. 753
Popular American Composers from Revolutionary Times to the Present: A Biographical and Critical Guide By David H. Ewen H. W. Wilson, 1962
Librarian's tip: "George Gershwin" begins on p. 68
American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle By Gerald Bordman Oxford University Press, 1992 (2nd edition)
Yankee Blues: Musical Culture and American Identity By MacDonald Smith Moore Indiana University Press, 1985
A Smattering of Ignorance By Oscar Levant Garden City Pub. Co., 1942
Librarian's tip: "My Life or The Story of George Gershwin" p. 147
The Saturday Review Treasury By John Haverstick Simon and Schuster, 1957
Librarian's tip: "In Memory of George Gershwin" by Bennett Cerf p. 249
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