George Gershwin

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About George Gershwin

A Broadway tunesmith and classical composer of the Jazz Age, George Gershwin fashioned an urbane, confident brand of American music that bridged the purported gap between popular and “serious” music. Born in 1898 in Brooklyn, NY, Gershwin began working as a Tin Pan Alley pianist at age 15. In 1919 he wrote his first major hit, “Swanee,” which was popularized by Al Jolson in the 1920 musical Sinbad, and composed his first classical work, Lullaby, for string quartet. Gershwin spent the next decade writing songs for Broadway shows and revues—nearly all featuring the witty, punning lyrics of his brother, Ira—including “Embraceable You,” “’S Wonderful,” and “I Got Rhythm.” The strands of Gershwin’s career coalesced in the revolutionary Rhapsody in Blue, introduced in 1924 in an experimental concert of symphonic jazz by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. Polishing his skills as an orchestrator, Gershwin wrote further orchestral works including the Piano Concerto in F (1925), An American in Paris (1928), Second Rhapsody (1931), and Cuban Overture (1932). Most ambitious was the groundbreaking opera Porgy and Bess (1935), which featured an all-Black cast and an amalgam of Southern folk, gospel, and jazz-tinged melodies. A lifelong learner, George moved west with Ira in 1936 to write songs for Hollywood, but his career was tragically cut short after he developed a brain tumor and died in 1937.

Brooklyn, NY, United States
September 26, 1898

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