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Ira Gershwin

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Ira Gershwin

Ira Gershwin
Background information
Birth name Israel Gershowitz
Also known as Israel Gershvin
Arthur Francis
Born (1896-12-06)December 6, 1896
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died August 17, 1983(1983-08-17) (aged 86)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Genres Popular
Occupation(s) Lyricist
Years active 1910s–1980s

Ira Gershwin (December 6, 1896 – August 17, 1983) was an American [1]

With George he wrote more than a dozen 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.[2]


Gershwin was born Israel Gershowitz in New York City to Morris (Moishe) and Rose Gershovitz who changed the family name to Gershvin well before their children rose to fame (it was not spelled "Gershwin" until later). 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, with whom he enjoyed a lifelong friendship, and a love of Gilbert and Sullivan. He attended the City College of New York but dropped out.[3][4]

The childhood home of Ira and George Gershwin was in the center of the 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.[5][6][7]

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.[8] 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 (written under the pseudonym "Arthur Francis"), ultimately produced by Abraham Erlanger, along with co-composers Vincent Youmans and Paul Lannin. Gershwin's lyrics were well received, and allowed him to successfully enter the show-business world with just one show.[4] Later the same year the Gershwins collaborated for the first time on a score, for A Dangerous Maid, which played in Atlantic City and on tour.[9]

It was not until 1924 that Ira and George Gershwin teamed up to write the music for their first Broadway hit Betty Grable film The Shocking Miss Pilgrim and he later wrote comic lyrics for Billy Wilder's movie Kiss Me, Stupid (although most critics believe his final major work was for the 1954 Judy Garland film A Star Is Born).[4]

American singer, pianist and musical historian [14]

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 stock!"[15]

Awards and honors

Three of 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.[16]

Gershwin, along with George S Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, was a recipient of the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Of Thee I Sing.[17]

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 Tormé (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).[18]


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."[19]

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.[20]

The George and Ira Gershwin Collection is at the Library of Congress Music Division.[21] 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.[22]

In 2007, the United States [23]

Personal life

He married Leonore (née Strunsky) in 1926.[24] He died in Beverly Hills, California, on August 17, 1983 at the age of 86. He is interred at Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

Notable songs


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, August 24, 1983.
  2. ^ a b Ira Gershwin biography, March 17, 2009
  3. ^ Furia, pp.3–4, 11
  4. ^ a b c d Ira Gershwin biography Retrieved March 17, 2009
  5. ^ Howard Pollack (2006). George Gershwin: His Life and Work. University of California Press. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Reviving, Revisiting Yiddish Culture", Mark Swed, LA Times, October 20, 1998
  7. ^ "Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: George Gershwin". Jewish Virtual Library. 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  8. ^ Furia, p. 26
  9. ^ Pollack, pp. 255–258
  10. ^ Furia, p. 45
  11. ^ John Thaxter (March 31, 2008). "The Stage". The Stage. Retrieved March 18, 2013. 
  12. ^ Ira Gershwin quoted by Edward Jablonski in Gershwin: A Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster (1988) ISBN 0-671-69931-8
  13. ^ Feinstein biography Retrieved March 17, 2009
  14. ^ NPR staff (October 13, 2012). "Michael Feinstein: What I Learned From The Gershwins". NPR music. NPR. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  15. ^ Purdham, Todd S. (April 1999). "The Street Where They Lived". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  16. ^ Gershwin (1959)
  17. ^ Brennan, Elizabeth A., "Who's who of Pulitzer Prize winners" (1999), Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 1-57356-111-8, p. 100
  18. ^ Gershwin Award Winners Retrieved May 11, 2009
  19. ^ Rosenberg, p.31
  20. ^ Staff.Widow of Ira Gershwin Endows Literacy Center",The New York Times, March 25, 1987
  21. ^ The Library of Congress Gershwin Collection The Library of Congress. Retrieved March 17, 2009
  22. ^ "Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin". Retrieved March 18, 2013. 
  23. ^ """LoC: "Paul Simon to Be Awarded First Annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by Library of Congress. March 1, 2007. Retrieved March 18, 2013. 
  24. ^ Brennan, p.100


External links

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