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Born: born Jacob Gershowitz, September 26, 1898, Brooklyn, New York
Died: July 11, 1937 (age 38), Beverly Hills, California
Primary songwriting role: composer; also pianist, classical composer, painter
An early (c. 1918) meeting between Berlin and Gershwin, their second, came about when Berlin, who had been in the Army and aside from has Army show "Yip, Yip, Yaphank" hadn't been writing much, brought a song to the renowned music publisher Max Dreyfus. Dreyfus liked the song so Berlin asked him to call in someone to note it down. Dreyfus called in one of his song pluggers, George Gershwin. After writing it down, Gershwin immediately played his own arrangement. According to Gershwin biographer, Edward Jablonksi, Berlin said of Gershwin's arrangement of "Revolutionary Rag," "it was so good I hardly recognized it." The very young Gershwin recognizing the opportunity to hitch his coattails to the star songwriter Irving Berlin proposed that Berlin hire him as his "musical secretary." "Berlin's opinion was that [Gershwin] was too talented to subordinate his talent to that of another songwriter, even Irving Berlin. 'Stick to writing your own songs kid' (Jablonski, pp. 35-36).
(note: both albums includes soundtrack version of song on video.)
A month after Gershwin's death in 1937, there was a memorial concert for him at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City, a venue where he had himself performed several times, the last occasion being not long before he died. On that occasion he had been disappointed that only a few thousand people had attended. The memorial concert drew over 20,000 a new stadium attendance record. Walter Rimler quotes the New York Times article on the concert:
Aside from the regular seating accommodations, every extra inch of space had been utilized for the expected overflow, but the crown was more than authorities had counted on. Standees lined both extension walls of the the shell and occupied every point of vantage. The aisles of the stands were filled. Hundreds of stood by at the stadium fences on Convent Avenue, 136th sand 138th Streets."
Rimler goes on to note that among the participants was Harry Kaufman, who played the Concerto in F. Todd Duncan (The original Porgy), Anne Brown, Ruby Elzy and the Eva Jessye Choir from the original cast performed selections from Porgy and Bess. A similar memorial took place at the The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles later that month and was similarly mobbed. At that concert some of the above performers were joined by Fred Astaire singing "They Can't Take That Away from Me" and Oscar Levant, a long time Gershwin colleague and family friend who overcame five years of stage fright to play the Concerto in F. (Rimler, p. 164).
Fred Astaire sings "They Can't Take That Away From Me to Ginger Rogers in the
movie Shall We Dance, 1937, the score for which being the last that George Gershwin completed before His death. (The encore performance in the video is from the 1949 movie The Barkleys of Broadway, the last film Fred and Ginger made together.)
For a broad selection of Porgy and Bess recordings, click here.
The following bibliography of articles from the New York Times (and other publications) appearing during the summer and fall of 2011 and winter of 2012, chronicles a discussion about new productions of the George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and Dubose Heyward opera Porgy and Bess.
The excerpted passage below serves as an introduction to the discussion:
In a letter to The Times [see below], Mr. Sondheim declared his opposition to filling out the backstory of the characters of the show and changing its ending. His tone was angry, even mean, and while some speculated about ulterior motives, anyone who has read Mr. Sondheim’s opinionated book “Finishing the Hat” knows this argument stems from strongly-held beliefs about “Porgy and Bess.”
Ms. [Diane] Paulus [the show's director] will have her chance to prove him wrong, and while she was surely not pleased with this feedback, I suspect it will only increase interest in her production and debate about the show. What was startling about Mr. Sondheim’s letter was its disregard for the diplomatic etiquette usually practiced by artists in the press. It suggested there are things in the theater more important than hurt feelings.
(from a column titled "Theater Talk-back: The Good That Comes From Bad Reviews" by Jason Zinoman that appeared in The New York Times, April, 5, 2011.)
The citations below are in chronological order from earliest date to most recent and the links will take you to the articles themselves at NYTimes.com and the sites of other publications. (All The Times articles will be available to subscribers and to those who have not exceeded The Times' limit for viewing articles on line within a given period. --Read more about NY TimesDigital subscriptions.)
Patrick Healy, "It Ain't Necessarily Porgy,"
The New York Times, August, 5, 2011. (Article on the upcoming Diane Paulus production of Porgy and Bess.)
"Inside Porgy and Bess Rehearsals With Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis (Video)," PlayBlog at Playbill.com. (Includes a video featuring Diane Paulus commenting on how the production has been changed from an opera to a musical, with more of a focus on the story. August 8, 2011.
Andrea Shea, 'Porgy And Bess': Messing With A Classic, NPR.music.org, August 21, 2011. (from the article: "Bess is still a beautiful drug addict torn between her brutish boyfriend Crown and her growing love for the charming, disabled beggar Porgy. But Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who was hired to open the script, had lots of questions about what made these characters tick." -- also includes links to other Porgy and Bess related NPR features.
Jeremy Eichler, "Prelude to at Least One Storm," Boston Globe August 31, 2011 (Review of the Tanglewood Music Festival concert performance of Porgy And Bess).
Ben Brantley, "Excavations on Catfish Row," The New York Times, September 2, 2011 (Review of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Cambridge MA. -- Brantley refers to the controversy, chronicled above, surrounding this production.)
Hilton Als, "A New Look for Porgy and Bess," The New Yorker, September 26, 2011 (Als gives the Paulus production a much more positive review than Brantley does: "Diane Paulus's great achievement is to cut through Heyward's muddy folklore and to present us with something more profound."
"Critics Discuss Porgy and Bess": Ben Brantley, the chief theater critic for The New York Times, and Anthony Tommasini, The Times’s chief classical music critic, discuss the new musical production, “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” based on the 1935 opera, and respond to readers’ comments, The New York Times, January 17, 2012.
Joe Nocera, "Variations on an Explosive Theme," The New York Times, Jan. 22, 2012. (An op-ed piece on the cultural and musical history of productions of Porgy and Bess.
George Gershwin (This section is currently in preparation)
Gershwin on Historical Audio and Video
"Looking for a Boy," Lyrics by Ira Gershwin, music by George Gershwin
Performed by George Gershwin, piano, Recorded July 6, 1926, London, Columbia 4065.
The song was written for the Broadway musical Tip-Toes, which made its Broadway debut on December 28, 1925 at the Liberty Theatre, was produced by Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley, who had been the producers of the Gershwins' smash hit "Lady, Be Good!" the year before. The American cast included: Jeannette MacDonald, Robert Halliday, Amy Revere, Andrew Tombes, Harry Watson Jr.., Queenie Smith, Allen Kearns, Gertrude McDonald, Lovey Lee. The show ran 194 Performances. (--videomaker credit)
Ira Gershwin and unknown narrator (perhaps Don Wilson) offer a portion of an oral biography of
George Gershwin. (Original source unknown to us)
"Rare film footage of George Gershwin in New York in 1929, playing songs from Strike Up The Band. George Gershwin also does some 'acting' with the comedians Clark and McCullough! The songs included in this clip are: 'Hangin' Around with You,' 'Strike Up The Band' and 'Mademoiselle in New Rochelle' (movie courtesy Edward Jablonski via Jack Gibbons"--videomaker credit)
George Gershwin on the radio
Late 1932 or early 1933
Listen to George Gershwin playing and commenting on his own works on the Rudy Vallée radio show*. (*aka "The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour"). The recording begins with an introduction of Gershwin who then plays his own arrangement of variations on "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Liza," continues with something a little more unusual, a blues lullaby based on one of his preludes for strings, and concludes with Gershwin waggishly interviewing himself.
George Gershwin introduces selections from his Porgy and Bess on the radio July 19, 1935 before it opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theater on Oct. 10, 1935.
Gershwin Songbook Albums and Videos: Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald,
Sarah Vaughan (1957) album: Sarah Vaughan Sings George Gershwin
Notes: Sarah Vaughan recorded several albums of Gershwin Songs. Click the album cover or the iTunes link to view to view Sarah Vaughan Sings George Gershwin at iTunes; click the Amazon link to view the remastered version of the same album.
Oscar Peterson (1959) album : Oscar Peterson Plays the George Gershwin Songbook
Notes: The Oscar Peterson Trio on this album consists of Peterson on Piano, Ray Brown on Bass and and Ed Thigpen on drums.
The Sarah Vaughan medley of Gershwin songs on the video at the right includes "But Not For Me", "Love Is Here To Stay", "Embraceable You" and "Someone To Watch Over Me" and comes from the album Gershwin Live, 1982. Sarah Vaughan is accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas with arrangements by Marty Paich. Vaughan's performance won her the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female in 1983. (videomaker credit)
Library of Congress (Raymond A. White. "The Gershwin Legacy, The Library Celebrates Contributions of George and Ira." Library of Congress Information Bulletin, (includes brief Bio. and article with photos)
research resources in print (listed chronologically):
Isaac Goldberg. George Gershwin: A Study in American Music. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1931 (republished Ungar, 1958 with supplement by Edith Garson and discography by Alan Dashiell. This is the first biography of Gershwin, written by a good friend and published during his lifetime).
Merle Armitage, Ed. George Gershwin. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995. (originally published 1938 as a memorial volume for George Gershwin with contributions from many who knew him).
Kurt List. "George Gershwin's Music: The Greatest American Composer—Alas!" Commentary (December, 1945).
Robert Kimball and Alfred Simon, Eds. The Gershwins: A Pictorial Biography. New York: Atheneum, 1973 (forward by Richard Rodgers, Introduction by John S. Wilson, includes a highly illustrated compendium of recollections by friends and family, diary entries, lyrics, etc. as well as a song list, chronology of shows with songs, discography of original cast recordings and studio recreations, etc.).
ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, New York: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Cattell/Bowker, Fourth edition, 1980 (dates, collaborators, shows/movies, songs, etc., entry p. 181).
David Ewen. American Songwriters, An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1987 (includes 146 bios of composers and lyricists). -- a wide selection of used copies is available at abebooks.com (entry pp. 173-181).
Robert Kimball, Ed. The Complete Lyrics Of Ira Gershwin, New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 1993; reprinted as paperback by Da Capo Press, 1998 (includes much material relevant to George, such as publication dates of all songs on which George and Ira collaborated and information about shows and movies they worked on together).
Patrick Healy. "It Ain't Necessarily Porgy." The New York Times: "Arts and Leisure," Sunday, August 7, 2011 (an account of the newly revised musical theater version of Porgy and Bess the opera scheduled first for Cambridge, MA then Broadway in Dec. 2011).
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