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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ira Gershwin

Background information
Birth name Israel Gershowitz
Also known as Israel Gershvin
Arthur Francis
Born December 6, 1896(1896-12-06)
New York City, USA
Died August 17, 1983 (aged 86)
Beverly Hills, California, USA
Genres Popular
Occupations Lyricist
Years active 1910s-1980s

Ira Gershwin (December 6, 1896 – August 17, 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 century.

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", and the opera Porgy and Bess.

The success the brothers had with their collaborative works has often overshadowed the creative role that Ira played. However, his mastery of songwriting continued after the early death of George. He wrote additional hit songs with composers Jerome Kern ("Long Ago (and Far Away)"), Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen.

His critically acclaimed book Lyrics on Several Occasions of 1959, 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]



Gershwin was born Israel Gershovitz in New York City to Morris (Moishe) and Rose Gershovitz who changed the family name to Gershwin well before their children rose to fame. Shy in his youth, he 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 from Townsend Harris High School in 1914, where he met Yip Harburg. He attended City College of New York but dropped out.[2][3]

While his younger brother began composing and "plugging" in Tin Pan Alley from the age of eighteen, Ira worked as a cashier in his father's Turkish baths.[4] It was not until 1921 that Ira became involved in the music business. Alex Aarons signed Ira to write the music for his next show, Two Little Girls in Blue (written under the pseudonym "Arthur Francis"), ultimately produced by Abraham Erlanger, with co-composers Vincent Youmans and Paul Lannin. Gershwin's lyrics were well received and allowed him to successfully enter the theatre world with just one show.[3]

It was not until 1924 that Ira and George Gershwin teamed up to write the music for their first Broadway hit Lady, Be Good!. Once the brothers joined together, 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".[5] Together, they wrote the music for more than twelve 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", "Summertime", and "They Can't Take That Away from Me".[1] 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 interlude, he teamed up with such accomplished composers as Jerome Kern (Cover Girl); Kurt Weill (Where Do We Go from Here? and Lady in the Dark); and Harold Arlen (Life Begins at 8:40; A Star Is Born). [3] Over the next fourteen 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.[6] 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."[7] In 1947, eleven songs he and George had written but never used were incorporated into the Betty Grable film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim.

American singer, pianist, 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.[8]

Private life

He married Leonore (née Strunsky) in 1926. [9] He died in Beverly Hills, California, and is interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

Awards and honors

Three Ira Gershwin songs were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, though none won: "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (1937), "Long Ago and Far Away" (1944) and "The Man That Got Away" (1954).[10]

Ira Gershwin, with George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, received the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Of Thee I Sing.[11]

The George and Ira Gershwin Lifetime Musical Achievement Award was established in 1988 by UCLA to honor the brothers for their contribution to music and for their gift to UCLA of the fight song "Strike Up the Band for UCLA". Past winners have included Angela Lansbury (1988), Ray Charles (1991), Mel Torme (1994), Bernadette Peters (1995), Frank Sinatra (2000), Stevie Wonder (2002), k.d. lang (2003), James Taylor (2004), Babyface (2005), Burt Bacharach (2006), Quincy Jones (2007), Lionel Richie (2008) and Julie Andrews (2009).[12]


The work of Ira and George Gershwin runs deep in the American consciousness. The opening clarinet glissando from George's Rhapsody in Blue, the taxi horn theme from his An American in Paris and the brothers' songs – "I Got Rhythm", "Embraceable You", "The Man I Love", "Someone to Watch Over Me", "Fascinating Rhythm", and many others – are instantly recognizable.

Ira Gershwin was a joyous listener to the sounds of the modern world. "He had a sharp eye and ear for the minutae 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."[13]

In 1987, Ira's widow, Leonore Gershwin, 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. [14]

The George and Ira Gershwin Collection is at the Library of Congress Music Division.[15] The Edward Jablonski and Lawrence D. Stewart Gershwin Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds a number of Ira's manuscripts and other material.[16]

In 2007, the Library of Congress named its Prize for Popular Song after him and his brother George. Recognizing the profound and positive effect of 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. On March 1, 2007, the Library of Congress announced that Paul Simon, one of America's most respected songwriters and musicians, was the first recipient of the annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.[17] The second Gershwin Prize for Popular Song was awarded to Stevie Wonder by U.S. President Barack Obama on February 25, 2009.[18]

Notable songs


  1. ^ a b Ira Gershwin, March 17, 2009
  2. ^ Furia, pp.3-4, 11
  3. ^ a b c Ira Gershwin, accessed March 17, 2009
  4. ^ Furia, p. 26
  5. ^ Furia, p. 45
  6. ^ The Stage
  7. ^ Ira Gershwin quoted by Edward Jablonski in Gershwin: A Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster (1988) ISBN 0-671-69931-8
  8. ^ Feinstein, accessed March 17, 2009
  9. ^ Brennan, p.100
  10. ^ Gershwin (1959)
  11. ^ Brennan, Elizabeth A., "Who's who of Pulitzer Prize winners" (1999), Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 1573561118, p. 100
  12. ^ Gershwin Award, accessed May 11, 2009
  13. ^ Rosenberg, p.31
  14. ^ Staff.Widow of Ira Gershwin Endows Literacy Center",The New York Times, March 25, 1987
  15. ^ The Library of Congress Gershwin CollectionThe Library of Congress, accessed March 17, 2009
  16. ^ Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin
  17. ^ LoC: "Paul Simon To Be Awarded First Annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by Library of Congress"
  18. ^ LoC: "President Obama Gives Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to Stevie Wonder Feb. 25"


  • Gershwin, Ira (1959). Lyrics on Several Occasions (First ed.). New York: Knopf. OCLC 538209.  
  • Rosenberg, Deena (1991). Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration of George and Ira Gershwin. Penguin Books USA. ISBN 0-525-93356-5.  
  • Gershwin, Ira; Kimball, Robert (1993). The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin (First ed.). New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 0394556518.  
  • Furia, Philip (1996). Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist (First ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195082990.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Israel Gershowitz, later Ira Gershwin (1896-12-061983-08-17), was an American lyricist, best remembered for the songs he wrote in collaboration with his brother George Gershwin.


  • You've made my life so glamorous,
    You can't blame me for feeling amorous.
    'S wonderful, 's marvellous
    That you should care for me.
  • I got rhythm,
    I got music,
    I got my man
    Who could ask for anything more?
  • Summertime and the livin' is easy,
    Fish are jumpin', and the cotton is high.
    Oh yo' daddy's rich, and yo' ma is good lookin',
    So hush, little baby, don' yo' cry.
  • It ain't necessarily so,
    It ain't necessarily so.
    De t'ings dat yo' li'ble
    To read in de Bible,
    It ain't necessarily so.
  • They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
    When he said the world was round;
    They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.
  • The way you wear your hat,
    The way you sip your tea,
    The mem'ry of all that –
    No, no! They can't take that away from me!
  • Poor Jenny, bright as a penny!
    Her equal would be hard to find.
    She lost one dad and mother,
    A sister and a brother--
    But she would make up her mind.
    • "The Saga of Jenny", Lady in the Dark

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