Sherway Academy of Music:
George Jacob Gershwin (September 26, 1898 – July 11, 1937) was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin’s compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928) as well as the contemporary opera Porgy and Bess (1935).
Gershwin was of Ukrainian-Jewish ancestry. His grandfather, Jakov Gershowitz, was born in Odessa and had served for 25 years as a mechanic for the Imperial Russian Army to earn the right of free travel and residence as a Jew; finally retiring near Saint Petersburg. His teenage son, Moishe Gershowitz, worked as a leather cutter for women’s shoes. Moishe Gershowitz met and fell in love with Roza Bruskina, the teenage daughter of a furrier in Vilnius. She and her family moved to New York because of increasing anti-Jewish sentiment in Russia, changing her first name to Rose.
On September 26, 1898, George was born as second son to Morris and Rose Bruskin Gershwin in their second-floor apartment at 242 Snediker Avenue in Brooklyn.
The family lived in many different residences, as their father changed dwellings with each new enterprise in which he became involved. They grew up mostly in the Yiddish Theater District. George and Ira frequented the local Yiddish theaters, with George occasionally appearing onstage as an extra.
George lived a boyhood not unusual in New York tenements, which included running around with his friends, roller-skating and misbehaving in the streets. Until 1908, he cared nothing about music. Then as a ten-year-old, he was intrigued upon hearing his friend Maxie Rosenzweig’s violin recital. The sound, and the way his friend played, captivated him.
Gershwin studied piano under Charles Hambitzer and composition with Rubin Goldmark, Henry Cowell and Joseph Brody. He began his career as a song plugger, but soon started composing Broadway theatre works with his brother Ira Gershwin, and Buddy DeSylva. He moved to Paris intending to study with Nadia Boulanger, who refused him, where he subsequently composed An American in Paris.
After returning to New York City, he wrote Porgy and Bess, with Ira, and the author DuBose Heyward. Initially a commercial failure, Porgy and Bess later went on to be considered one of the most important American operas of the Twentieth century, and an American cultural classic. Gershwin moved to Hollywood and composed numerous film scores until his death in 1937 from glioblastoma multiforme, a malignant brain tumor.
Gershwin’s compositions have been adapted for use in many films and for television, and several became jazz standards recorded and covered in many variations. Many celebrated singers and musicians have performed his songs.