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George Gershwin

George Gershwin

Fact Sheet

Musical genre:Classical  
Birthday26 September 1898
SignLibra
Birthplace  Brooklyn, New York, USA
Date of deathJuly 11, 1937 (age 38)
George Gershwin was an American composer. He was born Jacob Gershowitz in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish immigrant parents.

Gershwin composed both for Broadway and for the classical concert hall, and his music contains elements of both. He also wrote popular songs with success. Many of his compositions have been used in cinema, and perhaps many more are famous jazz standards: songbooks have been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald (memorable 3 discs recording for Verve, with Nelson Riddle's orchestra), Herbie Hancock and several other singers or players.

His most famous works in the classical field include:

  • Rhapsody in Blue, (1924), a symphonic jazz composition for jazz band, piano, and orchestra
  • Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra (1925)
  • An American In Paris (1928), a tone poem with elements of jazz and realistic sound effects Porgy And Bess, a folk opera (1935) (from the book by Dubose Heyward) about African-American life, which contains the famous aria "Summertime", in addition to hits like "I Got Plenty of Nothin" and "Tain't Necessarily So".
  • Three Preludes, (1936), for piano
George made most of his works with his brother Ira Gershwin, a lyricist. In 1910, the Gershwins had acquired a piano for Ira's music lessons, but George took over, successfully playing by ear. He tried out various piano teachers for 2 years, then was introduced to Charles Hambitzer - who became his mentor (and would remain so until Hambitzer's death in 1918). Hambitzer taught George conventional piano technique, introduced him to the European masters, and encouraged him to attend orchestral concerts (at home following such concerts, young George would attempt to reproduce at the keyboard the music he had heard). He later studied with classical composer Rubin Goldmark. His 1916 novelty rag "Rialto Ripples" was a commercial success, and in 1918 he scored his first big national hit with his song "Swanee".

In 1924, George and Ira collaborated on a musical comedy, "Lady Be Good". It included standards as "Fascinating Rhythm" and "The Man I Love." This was followed by "Oh, Kay!" (1926); "Funny Face" in (1927); "Strike Up the Band" (1927 & 1930); "Girl Crazy" (1930), which introduced the standard "I Got Rhythm"; and "Of Thee I Sing" (1931), the first musical comedy to win a Pulitzer Prize.

It was in Hollywood, while working on the score of The Goldwyn Follies, that George Gershwin collapsed and, on July 11, 1937, died of a brain tumour. He was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

The Gershwin estate continues to bring in significant royalties from licensing the copyrights on Gershwin's work. The estate supported the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act because its 1923 cutoff date was shortly before Gershwin had begun to create his most popular works.

The copyrights on those works expire in 2007 in the European Union and between 2019 and 2027 in the United States of America.