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Profile of George Gershwin



September 26, 1898


Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.


July 11, 1937 in Hollywood, California, during a brain operation

Also Known As:

His real name was Jacob Gershwin; an influential American composer and songwriter of the 20th century. He is known for his Broadway musicals and for fusing classical music with other music genres. Most of his compositions were influenced by his travels and experiences. He also used musical instruments that at the time were not widely used such as the maracas and bongo drums in his "Cuban Overture."

Type of Compositions:

He wrote musicals, songs, piano and orchestral pieces. Most of the lyrics of Gershwin's songs were written by his brother Ira. When Gershwin died, his brother Ira struggled both emotionally and creatively. He would later on release some of Gershwin's unpublished works and write lyrics to Gershwin's compositions which was included in the films "The Shocking Miss Pilgrim" (1947) and "Kiss Me, Stupid" (1964).


When Gershwin was 11, his parents bought a used upright piano for his brother Ira. Shortly after, Gershwin surprised everyone by playing a piece he self-studied on the piano. Gershwin began piano instruction under Charles Hambitzer who was so impressed with the young Gershwin's talent that he refused payment. He also studied under composers, namely Wallingford Riegger, Henry Cowell, Edward Kileny and under music theorist Joseph Schillinger. Gershwin was also influenced by the works of Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.

Notable Works:

"When You Want 'Em You Can't Get 'Em (When You've Got 'Em You Don't Want 'Em)" (first published song), "Rialto Ripples" (first composition for solo piano), "Swanee" (1919 in the musical Sinbad), "La La Lucille" (1919, musical, composed entire score), "Lullaby for string quartet" and "Rhapsody in Blue." Songs such as "Bidin' My Time," "But Not for Me," "Do, Do, Do," "Embraceable You," "Fascinating Rhythm," "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Isn't It a Pity."

Other Compositions:

"I Got Rhythm," "Of Thee I Sing" (1931, won a Pulitzer Prize), "Oh, Lady Be Good," "'S Wonderful," "Someone to Watch over Me," "Strike Up the Band," "Sweet and Low-Down" and "The Man I Love." Songs for movies such as "A Foggy Day," "Love Walked In," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," "Love Is Here to Stay." "Nice Work if You Can Get It," "They All Laughed" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me." Orchestral works such as "Concerto in F" (1925), "An American in Paris" (1928) and "Cuban Overture" (1932).

Interesting Facts:

At 15 he dropped out of school and worked as a song plugger for 3 years. Other jobs he held include playing in New York nightclubs, an accompanist and rehearsal pianist for Broadway musicals. "Porgy and Bess" premiered in 1935 with mixed reactions but is now considered one of Gershwin's greatest works. It was later performed at La Scala, Milan, making it the first opera by an American composer to be performed there. Gershwin was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. In his spare time, Gershwin is said to play tennis with Arnold Schoenberg.

Music Sample:

Listen to George Gershwin's "Rhaposdy in Blue" courtesy of YouTube.

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