26 September 1898 - 11 July 1937 (age 38)

The music of the American composer George Gershwin often blends different styles - classical, jazz and popular music. His output was prolific and though sadly he died at the young age of 38 he has left a legacy of hundreds of songs, many of which are still played and loved.






portrait of George Gershwin


Born: Jacob Gershowitz, Brooklyn, New York, 26 September 1898
Father: Morris (Moishe) Gershowitz - changed his name to Gershvin soon after arrival in USA from St Petersburg, Russia
Mother: Rosa Bruskin, Russian immigrant
Siblings: Older brother: Ira, younge brother Arthur, younger sister Frances
Partner: Kay Swift (10 year affair)
Children: none (though there may be an allegedly illegitimate son Alan)
Died: 11 July 1937, Hollywood, California
Cause of Death: Brain tumor
Grave: Westchester Hills Cemetary, Hastings on Hudson, New York (see findagrave)

Ira: George's elder brother, eventually became his lyricist for many of his most successful works. You can read more about him at gershwinfan.com
Arthur: His younger brother. Also a composer but his day job was as a stockbroker. More at Wikipedia
Frances: George's kid sister (Frankie) was also very musical and was the first of the siblings to earn money from it. She was a gifted painter and died in 1999 at the grand old age of 92. Read more at her New York Times obituary.

Gershwin plays 'I've got Rhythm'

Gershwin - the man

As a boy George was quite a handful. He was full of energy and liked sports and playing more than classes.
He loved jazz and ragtime music and taught himself to play the piano. He was however fortunate in later having teachers who not only taught well the techniques but also encouraged and nurtured his taste of classical and jazz music.
He also loved art and became a talented painter, like his sister Frankie. He spent a lot of his earnings on building a valuable art collection.
His composing output was prolific, it is said he wrote six songs a day.
He was very popular and sociable, always in demand at parties for his piano playing.
He was tall, dark and handsome - and intelligent. The ladies loved him and he loved the ladies. He had several affairs but the steadiest was the ten years with Kay Swift, also a composer, who after he died helped Ira on various projects.
Money: In 1905 the Guardian newspaper researched and published a compose 'Rich List'. Gershwin was the top earner. Read the article here.
He died without having made a will.


- Blue Monday Blues
- Porgy and Bess′
- La La Lucille
- Broadway Brevities of 1920
- Lady, be Good!
- Oh Kay!
- Strike up the Band
- Funny Face
- Girl Crazy
- Of Thee I sing
Rialto Ripples
- Preludes
- Rhapsody in Blue
- Concerto in F
- An American in Paris
- Cuban Overture

plus hundreds of songs and six film scores

Summertime -  Porgy & Bess 

Brief Biography and Career

1910 -Age 12 : A piano was bought for Ira, but it was George that used it most.
1913 - age 15: dropped out from school. Got first job as a performer/song plugger in New York's Tin Pan Alley.
1915 - age 17: First published song: "When You Want 'Em - You Can't Get 'Em"
1919 - age 21: First nationally successful song: 'Swanee' popularised by Al Jolson
- worked for various music publishers arranging and recording piano rolls for automated pianos.
- with lyricist Buddy DeSylva wrote 'Blue Monday' a jazz opera considered a precursor to 'Porgy & Bess'.
1924 - age 26: George and his brother Ira as lyricist produced the musical comedy 'Lady Be Good' (which included 'Fascinating Rhythm')
- composed 'Rhapsody in Blue' his first classical (and most popular) work. It was premiered by Paul Whiteman's concert band.
1930 - age 28: stayed a few months in Paris where he met with Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Milhaud. He asked Ravel for lessons but he apparently replied 'You should give me lessons'. While there he started work on 'American in Paris'.
1934 - age 36: hosted his own radio show for NBC 'Music by Gershwin'
1935 - age 37: completed 'Porgy & Bess'
1936 - age 38: commissioned by RKO to compose score for 'Shall We Dance'
1937 - age 38: collapsed in Hollywood while working on the score of 'The Goldwyn Follies'. Died following surgery on his brain tumor.

1932: Pulitzer Prize for the musical comedy 'Of Thee I Sing'
1937: Oscar nomination (George and Ira) for 'Best Original Song: 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' from the film 'Shall We Dance'
1985: Congressional Gold Medal to George and Ira.

Rhapsody in Blue

George Gershwin - Rhapsody In Blue by Quarouble


- “Life is a lot like jazz.. it's best when you improvise.”

- “True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.”

- “Why should I limit myself to only one woman when I can have as many women as I want?”

- "I frequently hear music in the heart of noise."

An American in Paris NYSO in Korea

Links - where to go for more information

Official site: www.gershwin.com

GershwinFan.com - The George and Ira Educational Fanpage

Answers.com collected reference sites including Wikipedia

ArtAlive: Geshwin profile

New! Comments

Feel free to leave a comment. Thank you.

Custom Search


Simplified piano solo arrangements of sixteen great Gershwin songs. Includes 

I Got RhythmSwanee and Let's Call The Whole Thing Off. With chord symbols.