George Gershwin

Active - 1933 - 1999  |   Born - Sep 26, 1898 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Died - Jul 11, 1937   |   Genres - Musical, Drama, Comedy, Romance, Music

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Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

Gershwin himself appears in The King of Jazz (1930) playing his world-renown Rhapsody in Blue (and, for some unfathomable reason, uncredited), and in archive footage in the television miniseries New York: A Documentary Film (1999). The ever popular and variously interpreted and orchestrated Rhapsody in Blue also occurs in Gus Arnheim and His Ambassadors (1928), Rhapsody in Blue (1945), the TV miniseries Jazz (2001), and an exquisite animated sequence in Fantasia 2000 (1999). The signature clarinet glissando has been used to open countless city scenes and to suggest contemporaneity.

The composer's famed opera Porgy and Bess, a brilliant synthesis of Tin Pan Alley lyricism, Impressionist opera, harmonies, blues, and gospel influences, has received several productions: in a sketchy but very effective 1959 dramatization directed by Otto Preminger with an all-star cast including Sidney Poitier as Porgy, Dorothy Dandridge as Bess, Sammy Davis Jr. as Sportin' Life, and Pearl Bailey as Maria; Trevor Nunn's faithful and excellent 1993 television version with Willard White and Cynthia Hayman; a fascinating television documentary entitled Porgy and Bess: An American Voice (1998) which features many personalities and performers who have been involved in the history of the legendary piece; and the New York City Opera's 2002 television production of the complete work. Individual songs from the opera have appeared in The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988) ("It Ain't Necessarily So"), an electronic version of "Summertime" in Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (1993), and in numerous television performances, and as fragments employed as momentary references and segues in many films.

Other concert works employed include quotes from the Concerto in F for piano and orchestra in You Were Meant for Me (1948), and parts of An American in Paris in Assignment: Rescue (aka The Story of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee, 1997) and An American in Paris (1951).

Individual Gershwin songs have enhanced many productions: "But Not for Me" in the comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994); "A Foggy Day" in The Notorious Landlady (1962); "That Certain Feeling" is the title tune for a 1956 film; "I've Got a Crush on You" in Three for the Show (1955); "Somebody Loves Me" is the title tune for a 1952 film; "Lady Be Good" and "Fascinating Rhythm" occur in Lady Be Good (1941); and "Strike up the Band" is the title tune of the 1940 film. Several songs are used throughout Love's Labour's Lost (2000), The Choirboys (1977), Broadway Rhythm (1944), So's Your Uncle (1943), The Goldwyn Follies (1938), The Flame Song (1934), the television tributes A Tribute to George and Ira Gershwin: A Memory of All That (1998), Ira Gershwin at 100: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (1997), and the American Masters episode George Gershwin Remembered (1987).

Other significant films adopting the Gershwin sound are Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979), Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid! (1964), the Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire vehicle Funny Face (1957), the Seaton comedy with Betty Grable The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), and the drama The Man I Love (1946) with Ida Lupino and Robert Alda.

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  • Quit school at the age of 15 to concentrate full-time on music.
  • Frequently collaborated with older brother Ira, who wrote lyrics to George's compositions.
  • Received a posthumous Oscar nomination for the song "They Can't Take That Away From Me" from the film Shall We Dance.
  • He and Ira were inspired to write An American in Paris during a 1928 trip to Europe.
  • Had a long-term relationship with composer Kay Swift, who was married to another man.
  • Was thought to be a hypochondriac because of his many illnesses; it was later discovered these illnesses were caused by the undiagnosed brain tumor that ultimately took his life.