IRA GERSHWIN (6 December 1896 – 17 August 1983) was an American
lyricist who collaborated with his younger brother, composer George
Gershwin , to create some of the most memorable songs of the 20th
With George he wrote more than a dozen Broadway shows, featuring
songs such as "
I Got Rhythm ", "
Embraceable You ", "The Man I Love "
and "Someone to Watch Over Me ". He was also responsible, along with
DuBose Heyward , for the libretto to George's opera
Porgy and Bess .
The success the Gershwin brothers had with their collaborative works
has often overshadowed the creative role that Ira played. His mastery
of songwriting continued, however, after the early death of George. He
wrote additional hit songs with composers
Jerome Kern ,
Kurt Weill and
Harold Arlen .
His critically acclaimed 1959 book Lyrics on Several Occasions, an
amalgam of autobiography and annotated anthology, is an important
source for studying the art of the lyricist in the golden age of
American popular song.
* 1 Life and career
* 2 Awards and honors
* 3 Legacy
* 4 Personal life
* 5 Notable songs
* 6 References
* 7 Sources
* 8 External links
LIFE AND CAREER
Gershwin was born ISRAEL GERSHOWITZ in New York City, the oldest of
four children of Morris (Moishe) and Rose Gershovitz (née Rosa
Bruskin), who were Russian Jews, born in St Petersburg, who had
emigrated to the US in 1891. Ira's siblings were George (Jacob, b.
1898), Arthur (b. 1900) and Frances (b. 1906). Morris changed the
family name to "Gershwine" (or alternatively "Gershvin") well before
their children rose to fame; it was not spelled "Gershwin" until
later. Shy in his youth, Ira spent much of his time at home reading,
but from grammar school through college he played a prominent part in
several school newspapers and magazines.
He graduated in 1914 from
Townsend Harris High School where he met
Yip Harburg , with whom he enjoyed a lifelong friendship and a love of
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan . He attended the
City College of New York
City College of New York but
The childhood home of Ira and
George Gershwin was in the center of
Yiddish Theater District , on the second floor at 91 Second
Avenue, between East 5th Street and East 6th Street. They frequented
the local Yiddish theaters.
While George began composing and "plugging" in
Tin Pan Alley
Tin Pan Alley from the
age of 18, Ira worked as a cashier in his father's Turkish baths . It
was not until 1921 that Ira became involved in the music business.
Alex Aarons signed Ira to write the songs for his next show, Two
Little Girls in Blue , ultimately produced by Abraham Erlanger, along
Vincent Youmans and Paul Lannin. So as not to appear
to trade off George's growing reputation, Ira wrote under the
pseudonym "Arthur Francis", after his youngest two siblings. His
lyrics were well received, allowing him successfully to enter the
show-business world with just one show. Later the same year, the
Gershwins collaborated for the first time on a score; this was for A
Dangerous Maid , which played in Atlantic City and on tour.
It was not until 1924 that Ira and George teamed up to write the
music for what became their first Broadway hit Lady, Be Good . Once
the brothers joined forces, their combined talents became one of the
most influential forces in the history of American Musical Theatre.
"When the Gershwins teamed up to write songs for Lady, Be Good, the
American musical found its native idiom." Together, they wrote the
music for more than 12 shows and four films. Some of their more famous
works include "The Man I Love ", "
Fascinating Rhythm ", "Someone to
Watch Over Me ", "
I Got Rhythm " and "They Can\'t Take That Away from
Me ". Their partnership continued until George's sudden death from a
brain tumor in 1937. Following his brother's death, Ira waited nearly
three years before writing again.
After this temporary retirement, Ira teamed up with accomplished
composers such as
Jerome Kern (Cover Girl );
Kurt Weill (Where Do We
Go from Here? ;
Lady in the Dark ); and
Harold Arlen (Life Begins at
8:40 ; A Star Is Born ). Over the next 14 years, Gershwin continued
to write the lyrics for many film scores and a few Broadway shows. But
the failure of Park Avenue in 1946 (a "smart" show about divorce,
co-written with composer
Arthur Schwartz ) was his farewell to
Broadway. As he wrote at the time, "Am reading a couple of stories
for possible musicalization (if there is such a word) but I hope I
don't like them as I think I deserve a long rest."
In 1947, he took 11 songs George had written but never used, provided
them with new lyrics, and incorporated them into the
Betty Grable film
The Shocking Miss Pilgrim . He later wrote comic lyrics for Billy
Wilder 's 1964 movie
Kiss Me, Stupid , although most critics believe
his final major work was for the 1954 Judy Garland film A Star Is Born
American singer, pianist and musical historian Michael Feinstein
worked for Gershwin in the lyricist's latter years, helping him with
his archive. Several lost musical treasures were unearthed during this
period, and Feinstein performed some of the material. Feinstein's
book The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs about
working for Ira, and George and Ira's music was published in 2012.
According to a 1999 story in Vanity Fair , Ira Gershwin’s love for
loud music was as great as his wife’s loathing of it. When Debby
Boone —daughter-in-law of his neighbor
Rosemary Clooney —returned
from Japan with one of the first Sony Walkmans (utilizing cassette
tape), Clooney gave it to
Michael Feinstein to give to Ira, "so he
could crank it in his ears, you know. And he said, ‘This is
absolutely wonderful!’ And he called his broker and bought Sony
AWARDS AND HONORS
Three of Ira Gershwin's songs ("They Can't Take That Away From Me"
(1937), "Long Ago (And Far Away)" (1944) and "
The Man That Got Away "
(1954)) were nominated for an
Academy Award for Best Original Song ,
though none won.
Along with George S Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, he was a recipient of
Pulitzer Prize for Drama for
Of Thee I Sing .
UCLA established The George and
Ira Gershwin Lifetime Musical
Achievement Award in recognition of the brothers' contribution to
music, and for their gift to
UCLA of the fight song "Strike Up the
Band for UCLA". Recipients include
Angela Lansbury (1988), Ray Charles
Mel Tormé (1994),
Bernadette Peters (1995), Frank Sinatra
Stevie Wonder (2002), k.d. lang (2003),
James Taylor (2004),
Burt Bacharach (2006),
Quincy Jones (2007), Lionel
Richie (2008) and
Julie Andrews (2009).
Ira Gershwin was a joyous listener to the sounds of the modern world.
"He had a sharp eye and ear for the minutiae of living." He noted in a
diary: "Heard in a day: An elevator's purr, telephone's ring,
telephone's buzz, a baby's moans, a shout of delight, a screech from a
'flat wheel', hoarse honks, a hoarse voice, a tinkle, a match scratch
on sandpaper, a deep resounding boom of dynamiting in the impending
subway, iron hooks on the gutter."
In 1987, Ira's widow, Leonore, established the
Ira Gershwin Literacy
Center at University Settlement, a century-old institution at 185
Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side, New York City. The Center is
designed to give English-language programs to primarily Hispanic and
Chinese Americans. Ira and his younger brother George spent many
after-school hours at the Settlement.
The George and
Ira Gershwin Collection is at the Library of Congress
Music Division. The
Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart Gershwin
Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the
University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin holds a number of Ira's manuscripts and
In 2007, the United States
Library of Congress
Library of Congress named its Prize for
Popular Song after him and his brother George. Recognizing the
profound and positive effect of American popular music on the world's
culture, the prize will be given annually to a composer or performer
whose lifetime contributions exemplify the standard of excellence
associated with the Gershwins.
He married Leonore (née Strunsky) in 1926. He died in Beverly Hills
, California, on 17 August 1983 at the age of 86. He is interred at
Westchester Hills Cemetery ,
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York . Leonore
died in 1991.
* "But Not For Me "
Embraceable You "
How Long Has This Been Going On? "
* "I Can\'t Get Started "
I Got Rhythm "
* "I\'ve Got a Crush on You "
* "Let\'s Call the Whole Thing Off "
Love Is Here To Stay "
* "The Man I Love "
The Man That Got Away "
My Ship " (music by
Kurt Weill )
* "Nice Work if You Can Get It "
'S Wonderful "
* "Someone to Watch Over Me "
* "Strike Up the Band "
* "They Can\'t Take That Away From Me "
* ^ Obituary Variety , August 24, 1983.
* ^ A B
Ira Gershwin biography pbs.org, March 17, 2009
* ^ Furia, pp.3–4, 11
* ^ A B C D
Ira Gershwin biography allmusic.com. Retrieved March
* ^ Howard Pollack (2006). George Gershwin: His Life and Work.
University of California Press. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
* ^ "Reviving, Revisiting Yiddish Culture", Mark Swed, LA Times,
October 20, 1998
* ^ "Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: George Gershwin".
Jewish Virtual Library. 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
* ^ Furia, p. 26
* ^ Pollack, pp. 255–258
* ^ Furia, p. 45
* ^ John Thaxter (March 31, 2008). "The Stage". The Stage.
Retrieved March 18, 2013.
Ira Gershwin quoted by
Edward Jablonski in Gershwin: A
Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster (1988) ISBN 0-671-69931-8
* ^ Feinstein biography musicianguide.com. Retrieved March 17, 2009
* ^ NPR staff (October 13, 2012). "Michael Feinstein: What I
Learned From The Gershwins". NPR music. NPR. Retrieved October 21,
* ^ Purdham, Todd S. (April 1999). "The Street Where They Lived".
Vanity Fair. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
* ^ Gershwin (1959)
* ^ Brennan, Elizabeth A., "Who's who of Pulitzer Prize winners"
(1999), Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 1-57356-111-8 , p. 100
* ^ Gershwin Award Winners uclalumni.net. Retrieved May 11, 2009
* ^ Rosenberg, p.31
* ^ Staff.Widow of
Ira Gershwin Endows Literacy Center",The New
York Times, March 25, 1987
* ^ The
Library of Congress
Library of Congress Gershwin Collection The Library of
Congress. Retrieved March 17, 2009
* ^ "Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of
Texas at Austin". hrc.utexas.edu:8080. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
* ^ "LoC: "Paul Simon to Be Awarded First Annual
Gershwin Prize for
Popular Song by Library of Congress"". Loc.gov. March 1, 2007.
Retrieved March 18, 2013.
* ^ Brennan, p.100
* Furia, Philip (1996). Ira Gershwin: The Art of the
ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508299-0 .
* Gershwin, Ira; Kimball, Robert (1993). The Complete Lyrics of Ira
Gershwin (First ed.). New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 0-394-55651-8 .
* Gershwin, Ira (1959). Lyrics on Several Occasions (First ed.). New
OCLC 538209 .
* Pollack, Howard. George Gershwin: his life and work. University of
California Press, 2006 ISBN 0-520-24864-3
* Rosenberg, Deena (1991). Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of
George and Ira Gershwin. Penguin Books USA. ISBN 0-525-93356-5 .